Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, in an interview with CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria, said that "the president, the press and the public are mistaken" in their belief that Sony had bowed to the demands of cyber hackers by pulling "The Interview" from distribution before the film even premiered. Lynton said "We have not given in. And we have not backed down" in its efforts to find a way to get the film released. However, Lynton placed the blame squarely on theater exhibitors, saying the company could not find a major chain that would agree to show the film. He said that thus far, efforts to find partners who would stream the film or offer it as an on demand title have also not yielded any success. He vowed the company is actively looking for ways to get the movie shown. Some pundits and critics were skeptical of Lynton's statements and suggested that the company should find a way to offer it for free to the public, especially since the company has conceded it has accepted it will take a complete loss on the film, estimated to be in the range of $80 million- $100 million. On MSNBC, guest host Ari Melber suggested an intriguing idea on the "All In" news program. Melber said that, as this obviously will not be the last time cyber hackers will try to use threats of violence to censor films, the U.S. government should consider opening a bureau specifically designed to ensure that any such project is made available to the public. Meanwhile, Michael Lynton's comments will doubtlessly be put to the test as, inevitably, a distribution source will be found for the film. For example, it is highly likely that at least some independent movie theaters would be willing to show the film simply on the basis of freedom of expression. So far, Paramount's decision to refuse to rent prints of the 2004 comedy "Team America" have generated little publicity. The studio withdrew the film from theatrical distribution when some theaters announced they would show it as a protest to North Korea, since the plot centers on a take down of the previous dictator of that country. So far, no word on whether theaters are moving to a Plan C, as some have suggested on line: that is, to screen the 2002 James Bond flick "Die Another Day", which also presents the North Koreans as villains. To view Lynton's interview, click here.
was completely gob-smacked by this one, folks. From the title and description of this 1980 release, I
was expecting a smarmy slasher film that used the holiday season for a cheap
backdrop and even cheaper jokes. What I got instead was a very well-made
character study reminiscent of Polanski's Repulsion. Although not as good
as that classic, it stands proudly beside it as a fascinating picture of a slow
descent into madness and murder. If anything, Harry Standling is a more
sympathetic main character as we are shown in a brief prologue the genesis of
both his fixation on Christmas and the reason for his awkwardness with people.
At an impressionable age the young Harry crept downstairs on Christmas Eve to
see Santa sexually gratifying his mother. That this Santa was actually his father
didn't register and the traumatized boy never really got over the sight of
Jolly Old Saint Nick pleasuring Mom. But let me tell you the story.....
Standling (Brandon Maggart) is an introverted middle-aged man whose hobby is
all things Christmas. Perfectly in sync with his obsessive regard for the
season, he has worked in a toy factory for most of his adult life. Harry's
years of experience have finally landed him a management job in the company and
he seems to have thought that his new position would allow him to make better
toys for kids. With the Christmas season approaching, he finds the hostile
anti-holiday attitudes of his co-workers and the disappointment of no longer
working directly with the toys getting to him. But what starts off looking like
a bout of holiday depression begins to turn nasty.
sad and disappointed by the adults around him, he begins to focus on the joys
Christmas brings to kids. For years Harry has kept detailed written accounts of
the actions of the children that live in his neighborhood and bound books
listing "bad" and "good" kids line his shelves. As he
starts spending more time going through them, adding black & white marks,
he becomes more unstable.
his home workshop he fashions a Santa costume, paints an elaborate mural of
Santa's sleigh on the sides of his van and begins to make plans. Learning from
a snide PR man of his company's halfhearted stab at charity by donating toys to
the local children's hospital, Harry is livid. Dressing as Santa he sneaks into
the factory at night, stealing a van load of toys, and on Christmas Eve
delivers them to the surprised and happy hospital staff. Elated by this near
perfect moment of holiday cheer he tracks the company PR man to a church where
he's attending a Christmas service. After waiting outside, a silent Santa,
Harry is taunted by some of the churchgoers and stabs two of them to death with
a toy solider! Driving away he next goes to the house of a co-worker who has
insulted and belittled him repeatedly. After a failed attempt to go down the
chimney he finds an open basement window, creeps in and kills the man right in
front of his wife. Disturbingly, the dead man's awakened kids wave happily to
the departing Santa just as their mother's screams ring out.
Christmas Day the cops are running around hunting a killer Santa, even going so
far as to put a bunch of them in a line up for witnesses from the church. But
an APB on St. Nick on December the 25th isn't exactly the best move and does
not net them their guy. Harry has spent the night in his van outside the toy
factory and awakens to the realization of his plight. Afraid to go home he
breaks into the place and, as if in a fantasy about really being Santa Claus,
turns on all the toy making equipment. As news reports stoke the fears of the
public Harry's younger brother Philip (Jeffery DeMunn) begins to think his
brother is involved. He becomes convinced that his unbalanced sibling is the
killer after a rambling phone call from him that afternoon. When night falls on
Christmas, Harry ventures out again but ends up being chased through the
streets by an actual torch-bearing mob until he escapes to his brother's home.
An enraged Philip demands answers, resulting in a family fight that brings the
tragic tale to a close.
a film with many things to praise the first should be the performance of
Brandon Maggart. He does a truly brilliant job of getting inside Harry's head,
showing us the broken way his mind functions. The moment I knew he was simply
not going to make a wrong step was in a sequence midway through his Christmas
Eve rounds. He has stopped outside a community house and is watching a
neighborhood party through a window. Spotted in his Santa outfit, he's pulled
inside and asked to join in the celebration with children and adults alike.
It's a beautiful scene that shows what his life could have been like as he
happily dances with everyone and enjoys a few drinks. Maggart is note perfect
here — he even elicits a chill as he says goodbye to the kids with a stern warning
about being good.
thing to single out is the exceptionally fine cinematography of the film. For a
movie made on such a small budget Christmas Evil looks incredible.
From one of the three (!) commentary tracks included in this release I learned
that director Lewis Jackson spent a lot his budget to get Ricardo Aronovich as
his Director of Photography; his skill certainly makes the film a joy to look
at. There are more than a dozen shots here that rival the best Christmas images
I've seen captured in the movies, with some of them being heartbreakingly well
composed. Jackson points out in brief liner notes that his prime visual
inspiration was the Christmas paintings of Thomas Nast and it really shows.
That a film of this type can be so beautiful puts to shame the sad Christmas
movies pumped out every year by Hollywood.
much as I liked the movie I have to admit it's not perfect. The last third of
the film isn't as sure footed as the beginning It's as if the focus has been
lost as Harry parades around the toy factory and it comes dangerously close to
derailing as he’s being pursued by the mob of angry parents. But by the time
the brothers have fought and credits roll over the haunting final image I found
it easy to forgive these small hiccups. Of course, a movie about a murderous
Santa Claus isn't going to be an easy sell for 90% of the public but I think
plenty of folks would love this were it given a chance.
Irvin’s 1980 movie version of Frederick Forsyth’s “The Dogs of War” approaches
its subject with much the same blunt detachment and minute attention to detail
that characterized Forsyth’s bestselling 1974 novel.It’s generally low-key tone and characters
seem a far cry from today’s over-the-top action films in which mercenaries and
paramilitary agents are usually depicted as aging musclemen (“The
Expendables”), manic cokeheads (“Sabotage”), and comic-book caricatures (“G.I.
soldier Jamie Shannon (Christopher Walken) returns home after a failed mission
in Central America. He doesn’t have much
of a life off the job. Divorced, he
lives in a dumpy apartment in Washington Heights, keeping one gun in the
refrigerator and another in a desk drawer. His only friend is a kid whom he pays to carry his groceries home; he
doesn’t even know the kid’s name. When a
mysterious businessman pays Shannon to scout out the military defenses of the
insane dictator General Kimba in the impoverished African nation of Zangaro,
Shannon takes the assignment and flies to Zangaro, posing as a nature
photographer. His cover blown, he is
arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and eventually thrown out of the country. Back in New York, Shannon’s reconnaissance
having identified holes in Kimba’s defenses, the businessman resurfaces and
offers Shannon the job of leading a mercenary coup against Kimba. Shannon recruits three friends from his old
team, Drew (Tom Berenger), Derek (Paul Freeman), and Michel (Jean Francois
Stevenin), puts together a deal for arms and equipment, and heads back to
Zangaro to meet up with and lead a rebel army assembled by Kimba’s corrupt
rival, Col. Bobi.
of Forsyth’s novel described, step by step, the ways and means of financing,
organizing, and executing a military coup. It’s gripping stuff on the printed page, but not very cinematic. The film covers the same ground in about a
half hour of running time. Filling out
the story for the screen, the script gives Shannon (in the novel, he’s an
Irish-born Englishman named “Cat” Shannon) more of a backstory and adds a
couple of new female characters. In the
novel, Shannon’s recon in Zangaro is uneventful. By putting him through the wringer, the movie
punches up the action and gives Shannon a personal reason for agreeing to
depose Kimba. Arguably, it also provides
a stronger rationale for Shannon’s decision, in both the novel and the movie,
to derail his employer’s plan to install the crooked Col. Bobi and instead put
Bobi’s honest rival, Dr. Okoye (Winston Ntshona), in the Presidential
Twilight Time Blu-ray features a handsome transfer of the U.S. theatrical
feature as well as the international version, which runs 15 minutes longer but
doesn’t add anything of vital substance. There is a handsome souvenir booklet by Julie Kirgo, and the art on the
keep case reproduces the U.S. poster art featuring Walken and his unbilled
co-star, the impressive XM-18E1R grenade launcher used by Shannon in the
climactic attack on Kimba’s compound. The Twilight Time Blu-ray, which is limited to 3,000 copies, is
(The following review is of
the UK DVD release of the film, on Region 2 format)
‘Just for You’ is a time
capsule of the British pop music scene in the early 1960s. It was made and released
in the UK in 1964 and the official press release from Network describes the DVD
as follows: ‘This ultra-rare musical film of 1966 tells the story of a rock ‘n’
roll hopeful searching for his big break […] Following the young singer as he
goes from studio to studio with his girlfriend and attempts to convince radio
and TV executives to play his song, ‘Just for You’ becomes a showcase for a
host of sixties musical talent’. This is
actually the plot of the 1966 American edition of the film, under the title
‘Discotheque Holiday’ (sometimes listed as ‘Disk-O-Tek Holiday’). What Network
has released is the original UK release of the film, ‘Just for You’, named
after the Freddie and the Dreamers’ song. The UK version was directed by
Douglas Hickox and doesn’t include the added US scenes directed by Vince Scarza
(with the budding singer played by Casey Paxton).
In the original UK version,
we get layabout impresario Sam Costa (played by comedian, disk jockey and
singer Sam Costa) lying in bed, his every whim tended by his fully-automated
computerised home help, while he entertains himself (and us) by running clips
of various pop acts on a projector in his private screening room. Yes, it’s
The links of Costa smoking
a cigar, wisecracking and at one point attempting to eat an animated haggis,
are diverting, but are really just that: links. The main point of the film is wonderfully
vivid Eastman Colour footage of a mixed bag of guitar bands, individual singers,
vocal groups and novelty pop acts performing their songs on a selection of interior
and exterior standing sets at Shepperton Studios.
The full set list is:
Faye Craig: ‘Bongo Baby’
The Applejacks: ‘Tell Me
Al Saxon: ‘Mine All Mine’
A Band of Angels: ‘Hide ‘n’
The Orchids: ‘Mr Scrooge’
The Bachelors: ‘The Fox’
Doug Sheldon: ‘Night Time’
Caroline Lee, Roy Sone and
Judy Jason: ‘Teenage Valentino’
Peter and Gordon: ‘Leave Me
Freddie and the Dreamers:
‘You Were Made for Me’
Millie Small: ‘Sugar Dandy’
Jackie and the Raindrops:
Mark Wynter: ‘I Wish you
Johnny B. Great: ‘If I had
Peter and Gordon: ‘Soft as
Faye Craig: ‘Voodoo’
The Warriors: ‘Don’t Make
Louise Cordet: ‘It’s So
Hard to be Good’
The Merseybeats: ‘Milk’
The Bachelors: ‘Low the
Freddie and the Dreamers:
‘Just for You’
What’s most apparent in
this film and these performances is that the influence of The Beatles and the
jangly Merseybeat sound is everywhere, even in the female singers – from
lyrical content and acoustics, to clothing choices and hairstyles. Several of
the acts here sport matching black or grey suits. Beatles moptop haircuts are everywhere.
Peter and Gordon’s ‘Soft as the Dawn’ closely resembles The Fab Four’s ‘And I
Love Her’. The Applejacks and the Merseybeats songs are patterned on Beatles
melodies and harmonies. ‘The Orchids’ are a Fab Three, a trio of girls whose
snowy rendition of ‘Mr Scrooge’ looks like an outtake from ‘Help!’, with the
girls’ black attire and red and white striped scarves, and has a Phil
Spector-ish sound. ‘A Band of Angels’ rasping ‘Hide ‘n’ Seek’ has the lads decked
out in silver suits and straw boaters, but their sound is defined by sandpaper
vocals and jagged rhythms – it’s one of the best songs in the film. ‘Dollybirds’
stare vacantly off into the distance throughout their performance; dressed in
leather gear from ‘Continental Fashions’, they look to have wandered in from
Antonioni’s ‘Blowup’. During two numbers – one involving a snooker table (the
rollicking skiffle shuffle of ‘The Fox’) and another wearing matching grey
suits (the ballad ‘Low the Valley’) – the Bachelors demonstrate why they
remained single. Doug Sheldon’s low-key ‘Night Time’ has the singer strolling
beside a shadowy studio mock-up of the River Thames, while Mark Wynter’s
purposeful ballad ‘I Wish you Everything’ is a bit Roy Orbison.
Much livelier are the girls.
Caroline Lee and Judy Jason don red Scottish tartan capes and caps to enact ‘Teenage
Valentino’, their tale of disinterest in a self-obsessed bloke. Roy Sone is the
handsome, narcissistic object of his own desires. The insightful lyrics – ‘Big
man, lover boy, teenage Valentino’ – are attributed to Nolly Clapton and Mercy
Hump. Quirky Louise Cordet (wearing a Shimmyshake Dress by Alice Edwards) is
the party-loving girl trying to behave, but finding ‘It’s so Hard to be Good’
and shrill-voiced Millie’s ‘Sugar Dandy’ is brassy, poppy and ear-splitting. Faye
Craig dances exotically to ‘Bongo Baby’ and ‘Voodoo’ (by Johnny Arthey, one of
the best pieces of music in the movie, with bongos and guitar). The lovely
Jackie and her cardiganed Raindrops perform Goffin-King’s ‘Loco-motion’ among
the commuters on a studio-bound train platform.
Lively is also the operative
word with Freddie and the Dreamers, probably the biggest act on show. Frontman
Freddie Garrity prances around the set and his band join in the synchronised
dancing for their most famous hit, the catchy ‘You Were Made for Me’. There’s
an Elizabethan theme for ‘Just for You’, with Freddie appropriately dressed as
the court jester. Other male artists include Al Saxon, who plays his revolving
piano in a party café decked with streamers for the gutsy sax-stacked groove
‘Mine All Mine’. Fellow piano-thumper Johnny B. Great’s snappy cover of Pete
Seeger’s ‘If I Had a Hammer’ gets his audience dancing.
The Network DVD has excellent
picture quality and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 (that’s
black bars at the sides of the picture for 16:9 screens). The original trailer
and an image gallery are included as extras, plus a pdf of promotional
material. If you can track down the American edit, ‘Discotheque Holiday’, you’ll
find it features additional performances for US fans, including The Chiffons,
Rockin’ Ramrods and The Vagrants. ‘Just for You’ is a pop nostalgia-fest
showcasing the great, the good, the overlooked and the somewhat forgotten of 1964.
The rare clips will be lapped up by anyone with an interest in the music and
style of the era. It’s fab and gear.
Athena Video has released "The Rise of the Nazi Party", a three disc DVD set comprised of all ten episodes from the acclaimed British documentary series that was telecast in the USA under the title "Nazis: Evolution of Evil". The fascination with Adolf Hitler and his criminal regime seems to only increase with time. While the documentaries cover well-worn turf, what makes this presentation notable is that the narrative concentrates on the inner workings of the Nazi party and the interaction between its key figures. The series uses dramatic recreations of major events interwoven with an abundance of actual newsreel footage and photographs. Clearly, a sizable sum had been spent on production values. The series interweaves contemporary footage of German locations with the historical films. While the notion is somewhat innovative, the shifting between old and new scenes can be somewhat distracting. That's about the only gripe, however. "The Rise of the Nazi Party" is a fascinating look at how a group of misfits, scoundrels and sadists rose to dominate one of the world's great nations. The series begins with the aftermath of WWI and correctly points out that the greed of the victorious Allied nations ironically helped nurture the rise of right wing extremism practiced by Hitler. The Allies insisted that German pay reparations for the war and the notorious Treaty of Versailles placed such onerous financial burdens on the German people that it risked turning the entire nation into a Third World country. The staggering debt was seen as a cash cow, particularly by Britain and France, the Allied countries that had suffered the most from the conflict. (Incredibly, Germany only recently made the final payments on its war debt.) Because WWI was such a senseless conflict caused by so many vague factors, the German people resented having the entire blame placed on them. As the financial situation in Germany worsened, hyperinflation devalued the German mark to the point where a loaf of bread could cost millions. Simultaneously, as the documentary points out, the Germans suffered another indignity when France sent armed legions to Germany's industrial region to occupy the territory and appropriate the revenues from factories. It was amid such a period of crisis that Adolf Hitler first became known. A decorated hero in the war, Hitler resented the military brass that had signed the Treaty of Versailles and in some warped fashion believed that a cabal of influential Jews were behind the strategy. His inexplicable but rabid anti-Semitism would characterize the entire Nazi movement. Even in its dying days, Hitler had the Nazi regime allocate enormous resources to continue his attempts to exterminate an entire people.
The documentary traces Hitler's first association with fringe groups who were calling for an overthrow of the weak Weimar Republic, a democratic government that had been imposed by the Allies but which had lost the confidence of the German people. Within a short time, the charismatic Hitler becomes the leader of the dissidents and moves to unite the fractions among them into the National Socialist Party. His first attempt to take the nation in a violent coup fails and he is imprisoned. However, behind bars he turns himself into a martyr to his cause by writing his influential memoir, Mein Kampf. When he emerges from jail, Hitler realizes the way to power is to bide his time and go through legal means. The Nazis grow in numbers and in strength but the everyday German doesn't believe they can ever win national offices. They were wrong. During the pivotal election cycle, the average German is lethargic and stays home from the polls while Hitler's fanatical followers turn out in droves. The Nazis become a major factor in the German political landscape. Ultimately, Hitler is appointed Chancellor under the aging but beloved President, von Hindenburg. Knowing that taking action against this national icon would backfire, he bides his time until von Hinderburg's death. He then appoints himself supreme leader of the nation, citing the need for a strong man with extraordinary powers to take on the many crisis facing Germany. The German reichstag all but votes themselves out of any meaningful power beyond being a body of "rubber-stampers" for Hitler's legislation. Within a short period of time, Hitler makes good on his promises. He authorizes massive public work projects that not only wipe out unemployment but also result in the nation having the most modern road system in the world. Worker's wages are raised and the average person's living standards rise appreciably. Hitler becomes a beloved icon. However, the dark side of this success is Hitler's calculated ability to split the population into "us" and "them", the latter being "undesirable" minorities, especially the Jews. He passes the Nuremberg Laws that effectively deprive German Jews of all civil rights- and it only gets worse from there. By rewarding Aryans with a good lifestyle, he correctly gambles that the average German won't do much to protest the persecution of the Jews. By the time he is committing wholesale genocide, many Germans are repulsed but are powerless to stop him. Hitler's obsession for expanding Germany's borders into Czechoslovakia and Austria are achieved without firing a shot, despite having blatantly violated the Treaty of Versailles. However, he miscalculates the Allies with his invasion of Poland, as evidenced by France and England declaring war. Hitler's fate is ultimately sealed when he makes the ill-advised decision to declare war on America in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He is now fighting an industrial giant with seemingly unlimited resources. This factor, coupled with his betrayal of the Soviet Union, it is only a matter of time before Germany is defeated.
The documentary also explores Hitler's love life (or lack thereof) and his obsession with his half-niece, who ultimately committed suicide, possibly because of his dictatorial control over her life. The show also delves into the rise of Hitler's top right hand men: Himmler, Goering, Goebbels and others. Among them is Ernst Rohm, an early supporter of Hitler who built his private body guard, the Brownshirts, into a major military force that virtually equaled the German army. In a sign of the backbiting that would characterize the Nazi brass, Hitler is manipulated by others into believing that Rohm is planning a coup. Thus, Hitler personally leads a raiding party on Rohm and his top men at a vacation resort where they are holding a conference. (It was actually a ruse for Rohm and his homosexual lovers to engage in sexual activities that Hitler felt were appalling for a true Aryan to participate in.) He orders his old friend to be executed. It would serve as a boiler plate for the inner rivalries and paranoia among his confidants that would dominate is reign as Fuhrer. (In the dying days of the Reich, both Himmler and Goering would betray Hitler by each presenting himself as the new Fuhrer and hoping to sue for peace.)
The purpose of the series is not to present the history of WWII. Certain major elements are covered in detail: the Holocaust, the disastrous invasion of the Soviet Union, the attempted assassinations against Hitler, the manipulation of Chamberlain at Munich, etc. However, other key events such as the invasion of Poland, the Hitler/Stalin pact and the fall of France are barely mentioned. The episodes are mostly concerned with the psyche of the Nazi brass. All of it is set to the pitch perfect narration of Joseph Kloska, who provides the necessary tone of gravitas. (Inexcusably, none of the actors who are seen throughout the entire series merit even a mention in the end credits.) There are the usual "talking heads" who provide analysis of the subject matter and these scholars are particularly interesting throughout. The final episode, "Aftermath", is one of the most compelling as it explores the breakout of the Cold War in the immediate aftermath of Germany's defeat. The Nuremberg Trials are covered in considerable detail and the episode bluntly addresses the decision by the United States to recruit notorious Nazi war criminals and whitewash their pasts in order to benefit from the technological knowledge these people had in the areas of science and espionage. (Wernher von Braun, who developed the first rocket technology, had the blood of thousands of slave laborers on his hands yet his indisputably built America's space program.)
The entire series is compelling throughout and will provide new perspectives for even the most devout WWII scholars. The set includes a booklet that features biographies of key Nazis along with a useful timeline of their rise and fall from power.
If there is a lesson to be learned from all of this, it's that when people in democracies are too lethargic to vote or become involved in the political process, the worst elements of society may one day seize power.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON AND TO VIEW PROMOTIONAL VIDEO
In time for the holidays, Warner Brothers Home Entertainment has released a 75th anniversary commemorative Blu-ray boxed set for "Gone With the Wind". This collector's edition includes the extensive previously released bonus extras as well as some exciting new features. See official press release below:
WBHE honors one of the most celebrated motion
pictures of all time with the Gone with the Wind75th
Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition on Blu-ray™ and Digital HD
with UltraViolet. This “must have” for classic film collectors will be
fittingly presented in limited and
numbered sets, with new collectible packaging, new enhanced content and new
collectible memorabilia. The memorabilia includes a replica of Rhett Butler’s
handkerchief and a music box paperweight playing Tara’s theme with an image on
top of the Rhett-Scarlett kiss. Also included is a 36-page companion booklet
featuring a look at the immortal style of Gone
with the Wind, written by New York fashion designer and Project Runway fan
favorite, Austin Scarlett. The new special features include footage of Clark
Gable and Vivien Leigh attending the original movie premiere in Atlanta and Old South/New South, a journey through
today's South, revisiting the real-life locations depicted to see how the world
of the Old South continues to inform life in the New South’s cosmopolitan
JOHN WAYNE: THE EPIC COLLECTION DEBUTS -NOW SHIPPING!
DVD COLLECTION OF 40 WARNER AND PARMOUNT FILMS IS LARGEST JOHN WAYNE BOX SET EVER
INCLUDES HOURS OF SPECIAL FEATURES AND REMARKABLE MEMORABILIA
AMAZON BUYERS GET EXCLUSIVE WAYNE BELT BUCKLE
Here is the original press release from earlier this year:
Burbank, Calif., February 24, 2014 -- To
commemorate one of America’s most iconic film heroes, Warner Bros. Home
Entertainment will introduce a comprehensive new DVD set -- John
Wayne: The Epic Collection-- on May 20. The spring release, just in
time for Father’s Day gift-giving ($149.98 SRP), will contain 38 discs with 40
Wayne films (full list below), including The
Searchers, once called one of the most influential movies in American
history and the film for which Wayne
won his Best Actor Academy Award®, True Grit (1969). The collection comes packaged in a handsome book with
unique collectibles and hours of special features.
The coffee table book includes a
chronological presentation of Wayne films, enhanced with wonderful photographs;
the hours of special features include commentaries, documentaries, featurettes,
vintage shorts and classic cartoons; and the special John Wayne collectibles include
personal correspondence, script pages/covers, pages with Wayne’s notations and
Wayne’s legacy will also be celebrated at the 4th
annual John Wayne Film Festival in Dallas from April 24th through
the 27th. The four-day festival will feature screenings of some of
Wayne’s classic feature films, Q + A sessions with Wayne family members and
co-stars, and parties celebrating the John Wayne heritage and legacy. All the
proceeds from the festival will benefit the John Wayne Cancer Foundation.
In making the announcement of the new
collection, Jeff Baker, WHV’s Executive VP and General Manager, Theatrical
Catalog said, “Thanks to our recent strategic alliance with Paramount and their
catalog titles, we’re delighted to be able to offer this number of titles representing
such a broad range of Wayne’s work. Wayne was one of the most popular film stars
ever. For more than a quarter century he was one of the tops at the worldwide box-office.
This collection will certainly be a ‘must have’ for loyal John Wayne fans and,
hopefully, will have an equal appeal to younger folks who want to learn more
Born Marion Robert Morrison in
Winterset, Iowa, John Wayne first worked in the film business as a laborer on
the Fox lot during summer vacations from U.S.C., which he attended on a
football scholarship. He met and was befriended by John Ford,
a young director who was beginning to make a name for himself in action films,
comedies and dramas. It was Ford who recommended Wayne for his first leading
For the next nine years, Wayne worked
in a multitude of B-Westerns and serials in between bit parts in larger
features. Wayne’s big break came in 1939, when Ford cast him as the Ringo Kid
in the adventure Stagecoach. Wayne
nearly stole the picture from his more seasoned co-stars, and his career as a
box-office superstar began. During his 50 year film career, Wayne played the
lead in more than 140 movies, an as yet unsurpassed
record, and was nominated for three Academy Awards®, winning the Best
Actor award for his performance in True
Discs In John Wayne: The Epic Collection
Big Stampede/Ride Him Cowboy/Haunted Gold, 1932
Telegraph Trail/Somewhere in Sonora/Man from Monterey, 1933
Throughout motion picture history, there have always been "disaster" movies. From Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy facing the great earthquake in "San Francisco" to John Wayne trying to rescue an airliner in distress in "The High and the Mighty". However, the disaster movie didn't emerge as a genre until the 1970s. Most people credit "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972) with being the first major entry among these kinds of films during that era, but arguably the genre began two years earlier with "Airport". That blockbuster flick set the standard for all of the disaster movies to follow:
An all-star cast ranging from top boxoffice attractions to respected veteran stars and popular character actors
Big production values
State-of-the-art special effects
Majestic musical score (and, if possible, a Top 40 hit shoe-horned into the proceedings)
A well-regarded director at the helm to preside over the mayhem
For the most part the formula worked fairly well. "Poseidon" was a major boxoffice smash and that film begat the short-lived genre's best year, 1974, which saw the virtual back-to-back release of "Gold", "Earthquake" and "The Towering Inferno", the latter being the "Citizen Kane" of disaster movies. However, the genre was to burn brightly but briefly. In the wake of "Inferno", there was nowhere else to go. The 1977 film "Black Sunday" was excellent, but despite a blimp crashing into the Superbowl stadium, it is not a "disaster movie" in the traditional sense. Most of those films that were, flopped badly. Producer Irwin Allen, who struck pay dirt as the producer of "Poseidon" and "Inferno" found the formula had grown stale by the late 1970s. His 1978 release "The Swarm" is generally referred to as the worst "Bee" movie ever made. His 1980 anemic attempt to blend cast members with elements of "Poseidon" and "Inferno" was released as "When Time Ran Out", an appropriate enough title for the flop that ended his big screen career. Another costly casualty of the disaster genre ebb was "Meteor", a 1979 production that top-lined an impressive cast: Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Brian Keith, Karl Malden, Martin Landau, Trevor Howard and Henry Fonda. It was produced by Gabe Gatzka and Sandy Howard (among others), two veterans with very respected backgrounds in the film industry. The film was directed by another highly respected individual, Ronald Neame, the man who had helmed "The Poseidon Adventure". On paper, the project must have looked like a "can't lose" proposition. Yet, "Meteor" turned out to be a major flop at the boxoffice as well as a critical disaster. What went wrong? To start with, it was probably ill-advised to entrust the production to American-International Pictures which specialized in making low-budget horror and teeny bopper exploitation films. The AIP association branded "Meteor" with a "cheesy" stigma even before cameras rolled.
Connery stars as a cynical, world-respected scientist whose warnings about the possibility of earth being hit by a destructive meteor have largely gone ignored. When the film opens, he is summoned to Washington by government officials who tell him the top secret bombshell disclosure that his worst nightmare is about to come true. A gigantic meteor is racing towards earth and there is only one way to stop it: by having the USA and Soviet Union join forces to synchronize their nuclear missiles in the hopes of blasting the meteor out of the sky. Brian Keith plays the Soviet foreign minister who meets up with Connery and his colleagues at a secret underground New York City command center located adjacent to the subway system(!) Natalie Wood is his comely interpreter, which allows for some mildly suggestive byplay between Connery and her. There's little time for romance, however, as advance particles from the meteor are already hitting earth and causing widespread damage. With time running out, the US and Soviet technicians scramble to employ their nuclear arsenals in a last ditch attempt to save earth. This scenario might seem stale today, but it was a relatively fresh concept back in '79. However, the film was undermined by the apparent shortage of production funds for use in the special effects. The sets are elaborate and impressive but the key sequences showing the missiles in action are laughably poor. Equally bad are the shots of the presumably menacing meteor hurtling towards earth. No matter how much the filmmakers try, it never looks much more terrifying than a large rock you might encounter in your garden. (Sean Connery once referred to the meteor special effects as making the titular objects resemble "little balls of shit".) The screenplay is a scatter shot affair. Apparently concerned that concentrating on the key characters who are locked into an underground command center might prove to be too claustrophobic, the decision was made to "open up" the scenario by showing various international locations being destroyed by meteor fragments. In doing so, the screenwriters cram in completely extraneous characters who are given approximately ten seconds each to develop personalities in the hope we can sympathize with them when they are pulverized. Thus, we see a young father in Hong Kong scrambling to get his child before a tidal wave engulfs the city. People in a ski resort in Switzerland are given equal opportunity for brief character development before they are buried under an avalanche. The sin of it all is that the production company really did film on location in these places but, aside from a few impressive snippets of crowds running frantically through the streets of Hong Kong, there is limited to value to the expenses incurred in shooting in such disparate areas of the globe.
Yet, for all its cheesiness, "Meteor" somehow plays better today than it did at the time of its initial release. This is primarily due to the fact that we can appreciate seeing the great cast members interacting on the big screen. Connery, middle-aged and handsome, makes for a fine leading man.Natalie Wood is given little of substance to do here but, given this was one of her last films, it gives us a precious opportunity to at least see her natural beauty. Brian Keith, long underrated as a leading man in feature films, steals the show, playing against type as a witty and funny Soviet diplomat. Only poor Martin Balsam comes across awful in an unintentionally funny performance as a fussy U.S. general who refuses to trust his Soviet counterparts (Fritz Weaver played essentially the same role very well in "Fail Safe" fifteen years earlier.) The finale of the film is truly impressive as a sea of mud descends upon the underground command center. The sequence was indeed a challenge to film and, if it looks like it was dangerous for the actors, it indeed was: several cast members were injured during this elaborate sequence.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is superb in terms of overall quality. As with so many special effects-laden films of the past, today's technology tends to expose the shortcomings in this pre-CGI era, but that only adds to the charm of watching a flick like this. The only bonus extra is the original theatrical trailer.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON AND TO WATCH ORIGINAL TRAILER
Bill Cosby has been in the news a lot lately, though undoubtedly not in a way he would prefer. Lost in the on-going debate about his career as a legendary comedian and sitcom star and how this affects allegations of sexual assaults, is the fact that Cos at one time showed considerable skill in rare dramatic roles. One such case was a now relatively obscure 1972 detective flick he starred in for United Artists. Largely forgotten by the general public due to very limited exposure since its release, Hickey & Boggs has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. (It was initially released a few years ago on DVD by MGM's burn-to-order division.) The film's primary merit is that it reunited I Spy co-stars Bill Cosby and Robert Culp (though by this time, Cosby's fame had eclipsed Culp's, thus resulting in his receiving top billing). In their classic TV show, Culp and Cosby played a tennis pro and his trainer who were actually secret agents. The glitz of the tennis world allowed them to live Bondian lifestyles while they thwarted bad guys. Intriguingly, Hickey & Boggs goes in a very different direction. Resisting the temptation to revive their wise-cracking I Spy personalities, Culp and Cos are seen as down-and-out private investigators in Los Angeles. Both are divorced but pine away for their ex's; they can't pay the office phone bill and they ride around in cars that look like they barely survived a demolition derby. As the TV spots for the film said at the time, "They have to reach up to touch bottom." On the brink of financial disaster, the men finally get a case: they are hired by a mysterious man to find an equally mysterious woman he wants to locate. The money is good, but the seemingly mundane case soon turns deadly with Hickey and Boggs dodging mob hit men, black radicals and unfriendly police brass.
Twilight Time has released the delightful 1962 hit comedy "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation" as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray release. The film is the very definition of old Hollywood star power, with James Stewart and Maureen O'Hara top-lining a cast that includes some first-rate character actors. Stewart plays Roger Hobbs, a burned out banking executive who is introduced to as he makes the daily grind of a commute amid traffic-choked, smog-filled roads. He narrates the story as a flashback, relating how he had planned a romantic getaway for he and his wife Peggy (Maureen O'Hara). She put the kabosh on his plans to tour London and Paris in favor of bringing their kids on a family vacation at a California beach house an acquaintance has offered them for free. Roger is less than enthusiastic about the idea. It will mean bringing along their insecure teenage daughter Katey (Lauri Peters) and her younger brother Danny (Michael Burns), a kid who rarely leaves the confines of his bedroom where he is obsessed with watching TV Westerns. (This was 1962, after all, when seemingly every other TV program was a Western!) Also invited are the Hobbs' grown daughters Susan (Natalie Trundy) and Janie (Lili Gentle), both of whom have more issues than Time magazine. Susan's and her husband Stan (Josh Peine) are parents to small children and are clearly embittered in their relationship due to the fact that Stan has been secretly unemployed for an extended period of time. Janie and her husband Byron (John Saxon, playing against type in a very amusing performance) have a young son and Roger can't stand being around them for any extended period of time. Byron is a pompous intellectual with a superiority complex and the couple's son, for whatever reason, hates grandpa Roger. All of these problems are just the undercurrent for what is shaping up to be a disastrous vacation from minute one. The lovely beach house Peggy has envisioned turns out to look like the set from "House on Haunted Hill", a once-stately home that has fallen into complete disrepair. Roger's first challenge is to get a complex water pumping system working, which leads to an amusing running gag about man vs. machine.
Roger, who is clearly not the typical dad found in sitcoms of the era, tries mightily to control his anger as his self-centered family members burden each other with their problems and emotional conflicts. It's a joy watching Stewart engage in his "slow burn" routine, barely able to restrain himself from exploding. Adding to the pressure is the arrival of an eccentric couple (the marvelous character actors John McGiver and Marie Wilson), who may be prospective employers for Stan- if they enjoy their stay at the beach home. This is the most amusing part of the movie as Roger finds himself valiantly trying to entertain this boring, prudish couple who on the surface seem to have no vices but who are secretly hiding a lifestyle of heavy drinking and sexual frustration. The sequence in which Stewart and McGiver go bird-watching is full of genuine belly laughs.
As film historian Julie Kirgo writes in the very perceptive liner notes in the accompanying booklet, "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation" is much deeper than the standard family comedy you might assume it to be. It reflects the changing attitudes of 1960s society and hints at the blossoming rebellion of young people in regard to parental authority. It also takes a much franker look at discussions and representations of sex. Roger and Peggy are aghast when Janie shamelessly announces she intends to start in on the process of having another baby immediately. Roger must contend with a busty, air-headed seductress (Valerie Varda) who cozies up to him every day on the beach in an overt attempt to lure him into bed. Finally, there is the only solace Roger can find at the end of a long, frustrating day: cozying under the sheets with Peggy. During this time sitcom married couples may still have been sleeping in separate beds, but big screen couples had matured to a more natural setting. The film makes quite clear that the Hobbs still enjoy an active love life (how could Roger ever resist a wife who looks like Maureen O'Hara?) Kirgo also points out that this was one of the first films to depict the gradual disintegration of the American family unit. Everyone seems to want to be in their own space doing their own thing- and this was decades before cell phone and video games. In an extended and highly prescient sequence, Roger attempts to gather the entire clan in the living room for a simple toast. However, he is interrupted by numerous mini-crisis that ultimately leave him entirely alone with a full glass in his hand.
Under the expert direction of Henry Koster, who also directed Stewart in his signature starring role in "Harvey", the pace is brisk and the script by noted scribe Nunnally Johnson provides plenty of funny quips that flow naturally and believably from the characters. The movie mixes laughter with some emotionally touching sequences. Roger takes his estranged son Danny on a simple boating trip only to experience the terror of being caught in a heavy fog and drifting far from shore. Stewart is excellent in this sequence. Roger is clearly frightened to death but manages to retain his calm in order to convince his son that he has the situation under control. The experience finally bonds both father and son. Roger also tries to help 14 year-old Katey cope with the insecurity of feeling unattractive because she wears braces. He brings her to a local dance for teens only to find her sitting as a wallflower. He bribes a young man (then teen idol Fabian) to show some interest in her, and the boy movingly returns the money to Hobbs because he genuinely likes her. (In the film's worst scene, Fabian croons a sugary love song to his new flame, which was due to an obvious contractual clause designed to sell some records.) Gradually, the frustrations of Roger's vacation week begin to resolve themselves and there is the expected happy ending. However, the film has a certain bite that was lacking in most family comedy features until that time. Roger Hobbs clearly loves and cares about his family but he's also not ashamed to be a bit self-indulgent in his desire to put his needs first occasionally.
The Twilight Time release boasts an excellent transfer, an isolated music track for Henry Mancini's score, the original theatrical trailer, an illustrated collector's booklet and a brief Fox Movietone News segment that goes behind the scenes on the set.
of the hallmarks of Don Siegel’s “Dirty Harry” (1971) was the way the director shot
the film on location in San Francisco. From the rooftops of Nob Hill to the
streets and alleys of the Tenderloin, Siegel made the location as much a part
of the story as Harry and the maniacal killer he pursues. But this skillful use
of location was nothing new for Siegel. He had long since mastered that
technique back in the late fifties in films like “The Lineup,” filmed in San
Francisco in 1958, and “Edge of Eternity,” shot in Arizona near the Grand
Canyon a year later.
“The Lineup” Siegel and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant concocted a brilliant
tale with off-beat characters and off-the-wall dialog, and gave movie goers a
breathtaking tour of San Francisco, most of which, sadly, is no longer there.
In “Edge of Eternity,” he had a less compelling script to work with, but the
Technicolor and Cinemascope photography of the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead by
Burnett Guffey more than compensates.
opening shots of “Edge of Eternity” show a car stopping near the edge of the
canyon. A man in a suit gets out of the car. Another man dressed in work
clothes appears and tries to throw him over the edge. A fight ensues, the car
falls into the canyon and in the movie’s first surprise, it’s the second man,
the would-be murderer, who goes over after it.
to Deputy Sheriff Les Martin (Cornell Wilde). Driving around the canyon on
patrol, he comes across the caretaker of an abandoned gold mine who tells him about
the man we saw escape death at the canyon, who’s all beat up and asking for
help from the police. At that moment, Janice
Kendon (Victoria Shaw), daughter of a wealthy mine owner, races past them
recklessly in her gorgeous canary yellow 1958 Thunderbird. Martin ignores the
old timer (it seems he’s kind of a coot, who cries wolf a lot) and pursues
out while he’s busy writing a ticket and flirting with her, the man who got
beat up at the canyon is being murdered back at the old timer’s place. So who
killed him and does it have anything to do with the $20 million we’re told lies
in the mine the government shut down during the war?
are the main plot questions, but who cares? The contrived story isn’t what really
matters in Edge of Eternity. It’s the real-time, real-place feeling that Siegel
manages to put on film that makes this little-known movie worth watching. Seeing
Wilde and Victoria Shaw playing their parts with the Grand Canyon in the
background, you hardly pay attention to the dialog anyway. All you know is
there’s a murder to be solved, some back story guilt to be healed by Wilde, and
a love story to be brought to a happy conclusion. Naturally, Siegel pulls it
off with his usual workman-like skill.
really fascinating thing about this movie, though, is the setting used for the
movie’s climax. When the film was made there was a company known as the U.S. Guano
Corp. The company had found a cave on the far side of the Canyon that was
believed to contain 100,000 tons of bat guano that was rich in nitrogen and
could be sold as fertilizer. The company built an expensive cable car system that
ran a span of 7,500 feet to the cave.
course Deputy Martin and the bad guy (you’ll never guess who it is, wink,
wink) have a big fist fight on the “dancing bucket” as it was affectionately
known, 2,500 feet above the canyon bottom, with Janice holding on for dear
life. Some of the close ups are obviously done with rear projection, but there
are a couple of long shots that make you hold your breath at least for the
stunt men. Overall, it’s an entertaining film with good performances, but I
kept wondering what Stirling Silliphant would have done with a set up like that.
the copy of the film I watched was on DVD and not BluRay, Columbia Classic’s
video release is extremely good. The vistas are pretty sharp and the color
bright. The music by Daniele Amfitheatrof is suitably majestic and well
recorded. Edge of Eternity is definitely worth watching.
for the bat guano operation, in real life the thing turned out to be a bust
when they found there was only 1,000 tons of bat doo-doo, not 100,000 tons and
the site was closed down. Nonetheless it was in operation at the time of
filming, and the producers, Siegel being one of them, ran a credit thanking U.S.
Guano for its assistance in making the movie. That may be the first and only
time Hollywood acknowledged the debt it owes to those who also wield shovels. Credit
where credit is due.
(John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon
at Sea” (1937) is old-school Hollywood at its best -- beautifully directed by
Henry Hathaway, great performances by Gary Cooper, George Raft, and Frances
Dee, wonderful support from a first-rate cast of character actors, and fine
Paramount production values.The script
casts a wide net over at least sixgenres, including maritime adventure, disaster saga, love story, spy
thriller, costume drama, and courtroom mystery.Imagine “Amistad” (1997), “Titanic” (1997), and “Master and Commander:
The Far Side of the World” (2003) combined, with a little music and comedy
added in.It sounds like it should be a
mess, but a strong script by old pros Grover Jones and Dale Van Every pulls it
all together seamlessly.
“Nuggin” Taylor (Cooper), an American seaman and sometimes ship’s officer,
faces charges of murder in a Boston courtroom in 1842 in the deaths of 18
fellow passengers during the sinking of the transatlantic brig William
Brown. Taylor is accused of
commandeering a lifeboat, ejecting other passengers and leaving them to drown,
and killing a fellow traveler, British naval Lt. Tarryton, with whom he had
been on strained terms (Henry Wilcoxon). Taylor refuses to speak in his own defense, and his blemished reputation
as a career slaver seems to substantiate the prosecution’s depiction of a
coward and opportunist. The few survivors
assembled in the courtroom plead on Taylor’s behalf, describing a different
sort of man, but there is one dissenting hold-out among them. Tarryton’s embittered sister Margaret (Dee)
supports the prosecution, even though she was one of the people Taylor
rescued. The jury returns a guilty
verdict, and then, as Taylor is led away, a British government official (George
Zucco) rushes into the courtroom and reveals the true story.
sadly underrated Henry Hathaway is best remembered now as a director of Westerns
who, like his contemporary John Ford, was known for bullying good performances
out of his casts. “Souls at Sea,” like
his earlier Paramount classic with Cooper, “Lives of a Bengal Lancer” (1935),
works perfectly fine as an action drama, but Hathaway also invests it with
great sensitivity in romantic scenes between Cooper and Dee, and between George
Raft as Taylor’s friend Powdah and Olympe Bradna as a winsome lady’s maid who
seeks a new start in America. Cooper and
Raft also click as mismatched but loyal buddies, Cooper crossing the frame with
a long-legged outdoorsman’s walk, Raft matching him with a subdued dancer’s
swagger. The climactic scenes
dramatizing the explosion and sinking of the doomed ship use state-of-the-art
1930s FX, chiefly miniatures and special sets simulating the burning, tilted
ship’s deck. Younger fans accustomed to
CGI may not be impressed, but these old-time FX have their own charm for us
The Universal Studios
Home Entertainment/TCM Vault Collection DVD is a manufactured-on-demand
DVD-R. There’s no chapter menu and no
extras, but the 1.33:1 full frame transfer is acceptable.
Kino Lorber has released the relatively forgotten 1954 murder thriller "Witness to Murder" on Blu-ray. The flick is film noir in the best tradition: modest budget, creative lighting and cinematography, an inspired cast and a compelling story. Barbara Stanwyck stars as Cheryl Draper, an independent, career-minded woman who has the misfortune to look out the window of her apartment late one windy evening only to observe a murder being committed across the street in another apartment. She is horrified to see an attractive young woman being strangled to death by a well-dressed, middle-aged man. She phones the police and is visited by two detectives: Lawrence Matthews (Gary Merrill) and Eddie Vincent (cigar-chomping Jesse White), who dutifully take the details and head over the apartment where the crime was committed. The murderer is Albert Richter (George Sanders), a snobby author of some repute who has had time to hide the body of the young woman in an adjoining empty apartment. When the detectives arrive to question him, he puts on a masterful performance, pretending he has been awakened from a sound sleep. He convinces the cops that Cheryl must have been dreaming or the lights may have played tricks with her vision. Convinced of his innocence, the cops inform Cheryl they are convinced no crime has been committed, despite her fervent protests that she was not mistaken. Now Cheryl realizes that her own life is in danger. In true film noir fashion, she plays Lois Lane and begins nosing around the building where Richter lives. She even gains access to his apartment when he is out , on the pretense of wanting to rent a similar unit. Before long, she and Richter and locked in a psychological cat-and-mouse game with Richter holding most of the cards. He enacts an elaborate scheme to discredit Cheryl, making it seem as though she suffers from psychological delusions. He even gets her temporarily committed to an asylum. Meanwhile, Cheryl has begun dating Det. Matthews, but still cant convince him that Richter is a murderer- even when it is revealed his is a "reformed" former Nazi.
"Witness to Murder" bares some startling similarities to the work of Alfred Hitchcock, notably "Rear Window", with some doses of "Vertigo" and "North By Northwest" thrown in. However, before you dismiss this film as another pale imitation of The Master's work, keep in mind that it was released before any of those cinematic classics. Director Roy Rowland keeps the suspense rising throughout until the final, nail-biting (if somewhat melodramatic) climax in which Cheryl finds herself menaced by Richter atop a high rise construction site.
The performances are uniformly excellent with Stanwyck playing that rarity in Hollywood movies of the era: a gutsy, intelligent and independent woman. Sanders is in full sneer mode and demonstrates why no one could play a cad like him. He's charming even when he informs you he's about to kill you. The only weak spot is a brief scene that tries to tie Richter's motive for murder into an improbable plan to revive the Third Reich! Beyond that, however, "Witness to Murder" is top notch film noir and is highly recommended.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains a great deal of grain, but that could have been from the original film negative. In any event, it unintentionally adds a bit of extra atmosphere to the black-and-white intrigue. The Blu-ray also contains an original trailer.
moviegoers who want to immerse themselves in two hours of bittersweet romantic
misery are likely to go see “The Fault in Our Stars,” “If I Stay,” or “The Best
of Me.”In 1955, the comparable ticket
was “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing,” based on Han Suyin’s bestselling 1952
book.Thanks to Twilight Time’s
limited-edition Blu-ray of the 20th
Century Fox film, today’s devotees of Nicholas Sparks and John Green have an
opportunity to see what made their grandmothers cry as twenty-somethings in the
Eisenhower era, while veteran fans of, uh, more mature age can enjoy Han’s
tragic love story again in beautiful hi-def CinemaScope and Color by DeLuxe.
fictionalized memoir related the story of her love affair with a war
correspondent, whom she called Mark Elliott, in 1949 Hong Kong. The circumstances of the affair were
provocative for the time. The widowed
Han, a medical resident at the crown colony’s Victoria Hospital, had mixed-race
parentage (Chinese father, Belgian mother). Elliott was a married American, although the marriage was strained and
he and his wife lived apart. How times
have changed, in real life as in the movies. In 2014, neither the one partner’s race nor the other’s marital status
would pose much of a challenge in most social circles. If you’re a 20-year-old viewer today, you may
have to check your instinct to judge the story by those more tolerant
standards, in which race isn’t a game-changer at all. Nowadays, in the rare event that a cultural
difference between lovers is needed as a dramatic complication in a movie or TV
show, it’s likely to be expressed in terms of supernatural fantasy, not
race. By that measure, you may care that
one partner is human and the other is a vampire. But that one sweetheart is part Asian and the
other Caucasian? Not so much.
convention of the time isn’t merely irrelevant in today’s ethnically diverse
cinema -- it’s embarrassing. In the
movie, Suyin is played by a fully Caucasian actress, Jennifer Jones, who
doesn’t look particularly Asian, even with make-up. Suyin has a younger sister in China, Suchin,
played by Donna Martell, who appears even less Asian than Jones. A friend in Hong Kong also of mixed
parentage, Suzanne, portrayed by Jorja Curtright, looks less Asian yet. There are plenty of Asian actors in the film,
including such familiar and welcome faces as Richard Loo, Philip Ahn, Beulah
Quo, and James Hong, but they’re relegated to supporting roles. It’s true that the movie could hardly have
been green-lighted as a major production in 1955 without a star like Jones in
top-billing, and that Asian actresses with that sort of clout were non-existent
then. But still. Jones also tends to play her scenes in
somewhat stilted, old-school style, yet another thing that today’s younger
viewers may have to adjust to. William
Holden, at the top of his game as Mark, brings a more relaxed method of acting,
but even his dialogue becomes a little pompous at times: “That reminds me of a line in that poem by
Century Fox dressed up the movie with all the amenities that A-picture budgets
could provide in 1955. These values remain
impressive almost 60 years later: a stirring score by Alfred Newman, which also
yielded the hit title song as a chart-topper by the Four Aces (another sign of
changing times -- can you imagine the Four Aces on the 2014 charts alongside
Robin Thicke and Jay Z?), exotic on-location exterior shots in Hong Kong, and
ravishing color design. The Twilight
Time Blu-ray, limited to 3,000 units, includes a sharp 1080p transfer, an
isolated music track, a souvenir booklet by Julie Kirgo, and a fine commentary
track by Jon Burlingame, Michael Lonzo, and Sylvia Stoddard. Fox Movietone News clips from 1955 show
Holden and producer Buddy Adler accepting honors at a couple of industry award
ceremonies, reminding us that Hollywood loved to celebrate itself long before
“Entertainment Tonight” and “Access Hollywood” came along.
Twilight Time Blu-ray limited edition of “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” can
be ordered HERE.
If there’s one overriding reason to view “The Lords of
Flatbush”, it is to watch a young Sylvester Stallone steal every scene he’s
in.This was two years before his star
making turn in “Rocky”, but there’s a sense that Stallone knew his career was
at a crossroads and he needed to turn in a command performance.The joy in watching him, though, is because
he doesn’t take focus by chewing the scenery.No, Stallone is downright subtle in this movie.To watch him here is to see a smart young
actor at work, not a bloated movie star.
Stallone, along with Henry Winkler, Perry King, and
Paul Mace, star as “The Lords,” (comically misspelled as “Lord’s” on the backs
of their leather jackets), a gang of shiftless teens in late 1950s
Brooklyn. High school is almost over,
though, and the boys are beginning to understand that the future looks awfully
big and empty.
King is “Chico”, the inarticulate lover boy. Stallone is “Stanley,” the group’s muscle.
Winkler and Mace are “Butchey,” and “Wimp,” the wise guys of the group. The gang’s life consists of hanging out at
the pool hall, or the all night malt shop. At one point they steal a car, but they aren’t bright enough to be
competent criminals. They like to talk about “busting heads,” but in the
movie’s single fight scene they don’t seem to be particular handy with their
fists. These photogenic losers find their uneventful existence interrupted by
two things: Chico falls hard for a new girl in school (Susan Blakely), and
Stanley learns that his mouthy girlfriend is pregnant. Though Chico and the new girl provide the
traditional “nice girl/bad boy” love angle, it’s the plot about Stanley that
provides the film with its heart.
Stallone is a whirling dervish of activity in this
movie. He’s constantly cracking his knuckles, slapping his hands together, or
craning his neck, as if he’s simply too dynamic to be contained in a movie frame. Watch him in scenes where the group is
walking together. He’s continually in
motion, hitching his shoulders, munching a toothpick, reaching up to knock a
leaf from an overhead branch, doing
anything to take attention from his co-stars. And it works. He’s the guy we
watch. The scene where Frannie (Maria
Smith, looking like a pint sized Fran Drescher) enters the pool hall and
demands Stanley marry her is mesmerizing. Not believing she’s pregnant, he kneels by a table and grabs a cue ball.
He plays gently with it, listening to her describe their future together. There
is anxiety on Stanley’s face, but also resignation. He cracks a few jokes, but we can see him
sweating. Childhood’s end is near. He is
about to walk stoop shouldered into adulthood, complete with screaming babies
and talky wives.
Nostalgia pieces about the ‘50s were big business in
the ‘70s (think “American Graffiti”, “Grease”, “The Wanderers”, etc). Audiences
paid good money to see flashy old cars, greased pompadours, and hear some
period music. As one critic noted in his
review of “Lords”, “by conjuring up the
magic appearance of that era, a kind of off-beat joy fills the theater,” and
that the gang’s striving for coolness was “perversely thrilling.” “The Lords of Flatbush” rode the nostalgia
wave and was a surprise hit, but it had plenty working against it, not the
least of which was that the four male leads and Blakely were too old to be
playing high school kids. Also, the
ersatz rock and roll score by Joe Brooks and Paul Jabara pales next to the
soundtrack of “American Graffiti”. (In fairness, many people are fond of the
“Lords” soundtrack, and Brooks and Jabara did go on to become successful
an animal energy in the movie, particularly in scenes involving Stallone. I loved how a friendly punching game with
King escalates into sudden, explosive violence. The two also have a scene on a
rooftop where Stallone offers a bizarre monolog about pigeons. Stallone allegedly wrote some of his own dialog
for the movie, and his rooftop prattle sounds a bit like something Rocky Balboa
might say a few years later.
Though many reviewers appreciated the film as a sort of
pop artifact, not everyone was impressed. Jay Cocks of Time magazine pronounced
it “pretty flimsy stuff.” Others, like
John Simon of the National Review, described it as “a film awful enough to
strangle talent in the cradle.” William
Sarmento , the curmudgeonly critic of the Lowell Sun, was so annoyed by the
film’s grainy look that he derided “Lords” as “an amateurish home movie,” and
“exasperatingly inept.” Meanwhile, Roger
Ebert wrote that the film “did a good job of seeing past its black leather
jackets and into the hearts of the essentially immature and unsure people who
wore them.” Oakland critic Robert
Taylor may have given the film its most accurate notice by writing that it was
like “a quick flip through a fat ‘50s wallet crammed with snapshots.”
Co-director and producer Stephen Verona spent three
years putting "The Lords of Flatbush" together. Inspired by the foreign films he’d seen
during the 1960s, Verona set about making his own statement about the life he’d
known. He had the idea to revisit the
1950s long before it was fashionable, but it took so long to fund his production
that the 1950s craze began without him. Raising money by putting the squeeze on “friends, family, and crazy
people,” Verona gathered $50,000, and shot the film in five weeks in 1972. Verona and co-director Martin Davidson shot
some more scenes and fiddled with the ending before selling their feature to
Columbia. When it became one of the sleeper hits of the season, Verona claimed that the simpler codes of
the 1950s were a key to the movie’s success.
"You knew the good guys from the bad guys by the
way they cut their hair, and the clothes they wore,” Verona said in a 1974
interview. “But what we tried to get across in this picture was that we all had
the same problems. We all wanted the girl, and the car."
Verona certainly had an eye for new talent. Along with
Stallone and Winkler, Verona also chose a very young Richard Gere to be part of
the original cast as Chico. According to ‘The Making of The Lords of Flatbush’,
Verona’s 2008 memoir, there was “a glitch in the chemistry” between Stallone
and Gere. Much of the script was written
through improvisations involving Gere and Stallone, but Verona knew that Gere
had to go. “Here they were supposed to be best friends” Verona wrote, “and in
real life they didn’t like each other.” Pointing to Stallone’s “immense imagination and focus,” it wasn’t a hard
decision to keep Sly and give Gere the boot. With a bit of amateur psychology, it’s easy to see why the two young
actors didn’t get along. Like Stallone, the young Gere was another twitchy
scene stealer. One can imagine Stallone
seeing Gere and thinking, Here’s a guy I might not be able to upstage. Hence,
friction. That’s my hunch, anyway. Perry King, destined for a long TV career
but not movie stardom, had a less showy acting style, so Stallone was probably
less threatened by him.
We all think we know what goes into staging a major
theatrical production. There is a writer and a script. There are actors, a
director, scenery and props. We realize that there are people behind the scenery
and props and probably a few other people whose responsibilities we can’t be
certain of. "Theatreland", from the people at the educational DVD
company, Athena,fills us in on all the things between the lines, between the
words and between productions at the same theatre, thus affording us an inside
look at the staging a major theatrical event..
Filmed over the course of six months at the Theatre Royal Haymarket Theatre in
London's West End "Theatreland" follows Sean Mathias as he begins his
term as Artistic Director of the esteemed venue. He has two high profile
productions he is preparing: Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" and
a new play based on Truman Capote's "Breakfast at Tiffany's". There isn't anywhere the camera doesn't take us. From rehearsal space to stage,
from designing a set to dismantling it, from the dressing rooms to the lobby
bar, we get a look at everything and everyone that makes a theatre production
run. We follow the actors through rehearsals. We follow the carpenters and
painters who build the sets. We follow the theatre manager and staff, from
backstage to front of house and learn just how much goes into putting a
production together. We are treated to all this in one of London's theatre
jewels, first built in 1720, moved to the south side of the street 100 years
later and said to be haunted by the
ghost of one of its former managers. Renovated over 100 years ago, the Theatre Royal Haymarket is in constant
need of maintenance. We watch repairmen work. We watch ushers work. We watch,
well, you get the idea. The delight of it all is we also get to observe such
talented actors as Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in "Waiting for
Godot" and Anna Friel and Joseph Cross in "Breakfast in
Tiffany's" as they prepare and perform.
We learn how a set goes from an artist's model
through its off-site construction and rebuilding at the theatre. It's a
wondrous process to see. Especially when the Theatre Royal Haymarket stage
switches out from the sparse, barren set of "Godot" to the
three-story, colorful and rotating set of "Tiffany's." If this
documentary had been written by Dr. David Reuben in the 1960s it may have been
titled "Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Theatre: But Were
Afraid to Ask." Don't be afraid of this DVD, though; it is both highly
educational and entertaining. Hopefully you won't need the subtitles; some of
the Cockney accents can be difficult!
about domineering fathers and neglected offspring are at least as old as the
Bible and Shakespeare. Gilles Legrand’s
“You Will Be My Son” (2012) is a worthy addition to the genre.
de Marseul (Niels Arestrup) is distressed to learn that his friend Francois
Amelot (Patrick Chesnais) has been diagnosed with pancreatic
cancer. Paul is the wealthy owner of a
French vineyard, and Francois has served for more than 30 years as his estate
manager: “a fancy name for winemaker,” Francois comments. When Francois announces that he’s too weak
from his illness to begin the new production season, Paul’s son Martin (Lorant Deutsch) steps up,
eager to take on the responsibility. He
handles sales for the company, and he knows Francois’ routine through years of
observation. But Paul has no faith in
Martin’s abilities as a vintner, and the two men moreover have a strained
personal relationship. Paul instead
gravitates to Francois’ son Philippe (Nicolas Bridet), who has returned from
America after hearing of his father’s illness. To Paul, Philippe is everything that his own son isn’t -- charming,
self-confident, and by instinct and experience, a promising winemaker. As Paul begins to displace Martin with
Philippe, symbolically at first and then with the idea of making Philippe his
son through legal action, resentments seethe and eventually explode.
In an American version 50 or 60 years ago, Paul would have been
played by a powerhouse like Rod Steiger, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, or Spencer
Tracy. Niels Arestrup (who may be
familiar to U.S. audiences from roles in “War Horse” and “The Diving Bell and
the Butterfly”) invests the role with comparable ferocity. Deutsch and Bridet (who would have been
Anthony Perkins and Ben Gazzara opposite Steiger or Cobb back in the day) offer
solid support. The scenes between
Arestrup and Deutsch are so raw and real that the confrontations are almost as
painful for the viewer as for the emotionally starved Martin. Equally fine performances are provided by
Chesnais as the ailing Francois and Valérie Mairesse as his outspoken spouse
Madeleine, who watch the situation with growing dismay, and Anne Marivin as
Martin’s supportive wife Alice.
As Paul confronts Martin, Martin confronts Philippe, and Alice
confronts Paul, you’re initially inclined to regard Paul and Philippe as the
villains and Martin as the victim with whom you should sympathize. However, as the story progresses, Legrand
begins to paint the characters in more ambiguous shades. A development late in the movie seems like a
macabre twist out of a Guy de Maupassant tale, setting up what would appear to
be a happy ending for some of the characters. But is it a happy ending?
Cohen Media Group’s classy Blu-ray includes a sharp transfer in
French with English subtitles, deleted scenes, interviews with Deutsch and
Legrand, the theatrical trailer, and a handsome inset booklet with credits and
stills from the movie.
Timeless Media has reissued it's massive set "M Squad: The Complete TV Series Special Edition" containing all 117 episodes of the gritty show that ran for three seasons on American TV commencing in 1957. The series was known for its hard-hitting and realistic look at crime in and around Chicago. Lee Marvin starred as Lt. Frank Ballinger, a no-nonsense cop assigned to crack down on organized crime in the vicinity. Like "The Naked City", "East Side, West Side" and "The Untouchables", the show was credited for having intelligent, believable scripts and fine performances from the cast and guest stars. The program's success helped to pave the way for Lee Marvin to be a major presence on the big screen.
The initial Timeless Media release of this set was released in 2008 and contained a special bonus soundtrack CD (Count Basie and young John Williams were among the legends who performed on the score and title theme.) That disc has been dropped in favor of a bonus DVD that presents Lee Marvin in early TV appearances on "Wagon Train", "Checkmate", The Virginian" and "Lee Marvin Presents Lawbreaker", an obscure 1963 telecast. They are manna from Heaven for Lee Marvin fans (and who isn't?)
One minor gripe: the photo on the box cover is not Marvin in "M Squad": it's actually a well known publicity still from John Boorman's 1967 big screen crime classic "Point Blank". Also, the quality of the "M Squad" episodes varies quite a bit, as they were taken from the best elements available. Purists may be critical of the transfers but the bottom line is that this is a highly impressive boxed set that presents an American acting legend at his very best. Now all you'll need is 117 hours of free time to enjoy the entire experience.
Here is the official press release:
of the most memorable of the early television police dramas,M Squaddebuted in 1957 and ran for
three seasons on NBC. Lee Marvin, a decorated WWII Marine veteran of the South
Pacific, where he received the Purple Heart in the Battle of Saipan, stars as
Lt. Frank Ballinger, a no-nonsense Chicago plainclothes cop in the elite M
Squad Division. On November 4th, 2014, Timeless Media Group, a
division of Shout! Factory LCC, will releaseM
Squad: The Complete TV Series-Special Editionon DVD. All 117 episodes of the
television series as originally aired, as well as a brand new bonus disc
featuring Lee Marvin guest star appearances inWagon Train, Checkmate, The
Virginianand as the host ofLawbreaker)
Squad's (M-for Murder) task is to root out organized crime and corruption in
America's Second City. Marvin's portrayal of a tough undercover officer, whose
perseverance and potential for violence, but with utter cool, permeates each
gritty episode, gave Marvin name recognition with the public, and did much to
make him a star.
If you're pondering what to get your significant other for a holiday gift, look no further than "Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Granada Television Series", which has been released in a boxed set by MPI Home Entertainment. For many, series star Jeremy Brett was- and remains- the definitive interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary detective. There have been countless actors who have provided wide-ranging performances as Holmes and most of them are commendable in their own way. However, Brett's debut as Holmes in this classic British TV series met with instant international acclaim even among the notoriously fussy Holmes scholars who never seem to be pleased with screen presentation of their literary hero.
The MPI set contains:
Every episode of the series (41 episodes on 12 DVDs)
Includes the five feature film-length adventures
Profusely illustrated collector's guide booklet with extensive essays by film historian Richard Valley
Interview with director John Madden and screenwriter Jeremy Paul
Interview with series co-star Edward Hardwicke
"Daytime Live" show with guest stars Brett and Hardwicke
Sherlock Holmes Museum short
Vintage Sherlock Holmes series promo
In all, a superb and irresistible release that will allow you many hours of matching wits with the world's greatest sleuth. What do you get for that special person for the holidays? The answer should be elementary.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER DVD SET FROM AMAZON AND TO VIEW PROMOTIONAL CLIPS FOR MANY EPISODES.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE SET FROM AMAZON ON BLU-RAY
have been entire books dedicated to the cinema of Dutch director Paul Verhoeven
and with good reason. Known for pushing the envelope of what is acceptable
onscreen in both sexuality and violence, his movies have been celebrated and
condemned - often by the same critic at different times! To one degree or another
I have enjoyed every Verhoeven film I've seen all the way back to the brilliant
Soldier of Orange (1977) but it was RoboCop (1987) that stomped across the
world and made it possible for the madman to make nearly anything he wanted. I
wonder what would have happened if this film - his first English language
effort- had not been a huge financial success. Would we have had a series of
progressively worse sequels with Rutger Hauer ravishing maidens and slaying
nobles for gold? Maybe in a better world.....
+ Blood (1985) takes place in Western Europe in 1501 and begins during an
attack on a small Italian city by a group of mercenaries employed by the city's
rightful ruler Arnolfini (Fernardo Hilbeck). These soldiers have been promised a
full day of consequence free looting if they succeed in retaking the city
but once the job is done Arnolfini soon reneges on this offer when he sees them
destroying the place. The commander of the troops, Hawkwood (Jack
Thompson), is heartsick over a nun that he mistakenly harmed during the attack
and Arnolfini promises to get medical attention for her if the commander will
use the cavalry to eject the mercenaries from the city without their loot. This
betrayal is not taken well, especially by Hawkwood's former lieutenant Martin
(Rutger Hauer). Soon after the group is run off, Martin is burying his
stillborn child when he unearths a wooden statue of Saint Martin of Tours. This
saint with a sword is seen by the mercenaries' cleric as a sign from God
to follow Martin as their new leader.
in the retaken city Arnolfini's son Steven (Tom Burlinson) has been betrothed
to Lady Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh). They meet for the first time when Steven greets
her caravan on the way to their wedding and love seems to blossom between the
two. But then the entourage is attacked and robbed by Martin's group. Arnolfini
is seriously injured during the raid while Agnes is carried away concealed
among her valuable dowry. That night Martin discovers Agnes and, although the other
men desire to gang rape her, Martin claims her for himself. He first rapes her
but then Agnes starts flirting with him, hoping to gain his protection. She
becomes his concubine after a fashion and is dragged along on the mercenaries'
travels. She easily convinces Martin that he is in love with her and works carefully
on the other members of the band to get them to accept her. She appears to have
completely given up on her former life and forgotten her betrothal.
enough the mercenaries come upon a castle where, unknown to them, the
inhabitants are infected with the Black Death. The group captures the
castle with the help of Agnes, who proves herself very resourceful in many ways.
But Steven is determined to reclaim his bride to be and turns to Hawkwood for
help. Hawkwood only wants to live a quiet life caring for the former nun he had
injured but Steven uses force and threats against the nun to coerce the old
soldier to help in his pursuit of Martin. Once they locate the mercenaries they
realize that they don't have sufficient force to take the castle and lay siege to
it. Inside the castle Martin asks Agnes where her true loyalties lie but she is
ambiguous hinting that she will be happy with whoever wins. Outside the castle,
the dreaded Plague spreads among Steven's forces and even infects Hawkwood. After
an impressive battle with an incredible siege engine built by the well-educated
Steven, the mercenaries capture Steven and shackle him in the castle's courtyard.
Here Agnes feigns hatred of her ex-groom and even has sex with Martin in front
lancing his boils, Hawkwood is able to cure himself of the plague but he cannot
continue the siege alone. Instead, he catapults pieces of an infected dog over
the castle walls and when one chunk lands near the chained Steven, he flings it
into the place's water well. Agnes sees this happen and Steven tells her that
she can decide whether or not to tell the mercenaries.
fears of the Black Death creeping into the castle, the band of mercenaries want
to leave the place but Martin persuades them to stay. Agnes does not warn them
about the well and watches as they drink infected water. However, when Martin begins to drink, she slaps the cup
from his hand. As several of the group start to show signs of the sickness,
they hurl Martin into the tainted well and, as she did after Steven's capture,
Agnes joins in the abuse of Martin. At this point Hawkwood and Arnolfini return
to the castle with an army and attack. Inside the castle, Steven and Martin cooperate
to save each other, but with a fresh siege underway there is no way to know who
will live and who will die.
looking for a sweet natured adventure film with noble knights and derring-do would
do well to back slowly away from this movie. Vicious, nasty, violent and cruel
are just a few of the words I would use to describe both the story and the
characters in this brutal medieval epic. All of the people in this story act in
selfish, ruthless ways at almost every turn and only seem driven by the most primitive
of emotions. Even the very few acts of kindness can be seen as self-serving in
a world where everyone is fighting just to survive. That's not to say the film
is not entertaining. Indeed, I would say Flesh + Blood is supreme fun for fans
of the harsher kinds of cinema. The film is one part exploitation, two parts
graphic violence, one part costume drama and one part historical romance - as
long as you don't need the romance to be the chaste kind!
enthusiasts (Godzilla fans in particular) can join Cinema Retro’s Rod Barnett
along with Troy Guinn as they start a new series of podcasts entitled “Controversial
Kaiju”. The first episode focuses on “All Monsters Attack” (1969) (aka “Godzilla’s Revenge”). The broadcast can
be downloaded through this link.
Shout! Factory will re-issue the entire series of "Secret Agent" (aka "Danger Man") starring Patrick McGoohan as a 17 DVD set. This edition will feature new extra features. See press release below:
“Every government has its secret service branch. America,CIA; France,Deuxième Bureau; England,MI5.NATOalso
has its own. A messy job? Well that's when they usually call on me or someone
like me. Oh yes, my name is Drake, John Drake.” So begins the dramatic 1960s
British spy seriesSecret
Agent. On December 9th, 2014 bring home the adventures of John
Drake with the complete series set of this classic spy show. The 17-DVD box set
also contains a number of bonus features, including audio commentaries and a
brand new interview with Catherine McGoohan.
McGoohan (The Prisoner) stars as John Drake inSecret Agent, the popular
television series from the Golden Age of Spy Thrillers, the 1960s. Travelling
the world to capture international criminals, John Drake rarely solved problems
with a gun, preferring to use charm and wit over violence to bring in the bad
There is a frightening scene in “Prince of The Night” when
Klaus Kinski chases a woman through the streets of Venice. She runs into
an empty building, but like a jungle cat bringing down an impala, Kinski catches
her and smashes her to the stone floor. Actresses Barbara De Rossi and Elvire Audray
complained that Kinski was too rough on them during the making of this 1988
Italian production, but when Kinski is hired to play Nosferatu, a creature
“belched forth by the Devil,” one can’t expect the off-screen neck nibbles of
Bela Lugosi. As he did throughout his hellacious career, Kinski played the role
with an utter lack of restraint. De Rossi and Audray were lucky he
didn’t actually tear open their jugulars.
It turns out that Kinski’s untamed acting had a payoff.
As we can see in the recently released DVD from One 7 Movies, Kinski outshines
the rest of the cast, including such gallant journeymen as Christopher Plummer
and Donald Pleasence. If a few
actresses got scuffed up along the way, so be it.
The cast should have known what to expect when, on his
first day of shooting, Kinski and director Mario Caiano got into a violent
argument. Part of the beef was that Kinski was reprising his character
from Werner Herzog’s 1979 picture “Nosferatu the Vampyre” and was supposed to
wear the same bald head, and corpse-white makeup. However, the petulant
Kinski arrived on the set wearing long hair and asserting that he had no intention
of enduring another painful make-up sessions. This is why Nosferatu of
the 1988 film looks like Aguirre and nothing like the original character
from the Herzog movie (or for that matter, the F.W. Murnau silent
film). Kinski’s only nod to tradition was that he wore the same rodent teeth
he’d worn for Herzog.
Waylaid by Kinski’s bellicose attitude, Caiano left the
production after being paid his full salary. Caiano’s departure wasn’t a
surprise, since the film had already been through several personnel changes.
Producer Augusto Caminito had already hired and fired directors Maurizio Lucidi
and Pasquale Squitieri before hiring Caiano. When Kinski forced Caiano off the
set, Caminito decided to direct the film himself. Since Caminito had little directing
experience, he enlisted the help of Luigi Cozzi, a veteran of many Italian
horror films (as well as the Lou Ferrigno “Hercules” of 1983). Not
surprisingly, even Kinski is alleged to have directed a few scenes.
Somehow, this debacle of a production yielded a highly
watchable movie (originally titled “Vampire In Venice”). I imagine some
of the credit must go to cinematographer Tonino Nardi, who lovingly feeds us
one eye-popping scene after another. It’s as if Nardi knew, while
chaos swirled all around him, that all one needed to make this vampire movie
was Kinski, a few beautiful women, and the gorgeous scenery of Venice.
One can almost turn the sound off, ignore the rickety plot, and simply
enjoy the movie for its visual delights.
The movie is supposed to take place in 1780s
Venice, a time of plagues and death. The
streets are a weird mix of the morbid and the frivolous. You’re as likely to
step over a corpse as to be pestered by a dancing harlequin. Yet, one of my
favorite moments is when an extra steering a gondola is not in period costume,
but is instead wearing a denim jacket and tight fitting jeans, as if a member
of The Doobie Brothers had been somehow teleported into the 18th century.
Caminito was probably so sick of reshoots that he hoped no one would notice the
At the time of its release in 1962 critics treated director J. Lee Thompson's "Taras Bulba" as just another action epic. Well, back in those days, every week seemed to see the release of a worthwhile action epic. However, retro movie fans have long held this film in a place of honor. It has an intelligent script, fine performances and sequences that are truly magnificent in their scope- all set to the legendary Franz Waxman's superb, Oscar-nominated score. The film is unusual on many levels beginning with the period of history it covers: the battles between the Cossacks and Poles for control of the Ukraine Steppes in the early 16th century. When the film opens, the Cossacks are fighting with the Poles to thwart an invading Turkish army. However, the Poles double-cross their allies after victory has been achieved, slaughtering many of the Cossacks, whom they fear will be a future threat. The mantle of Cossack leadership falls to the courageous warrior Taras Bulba, who vows revenge against Poland no matter how long it takes. The Cossacks spend many years rebuilding their strength. During this time, Bulba fathers two sons: Andrei (Tony Curtis) and Ostap (Perry Lopez), both of whom do instill him with pride for adapting the rough-and-tumble ways of the Cossack warriors. When tensions ease with the Polish government, Taras instructs his sons to attend university in Kiev, ostensibly to get an education. In reality, he wants them to study Polish customs and habits, all the better to serve in the forthcoming war against them that he is planning. While in Kiev, the boys suffer the indignities of ridicule, beatings and hazings. (There is an amusing, if unintended,homo erotic aspect to some of these scenes, with sweaty, shirtless men whipping each other.) Andrei finds it's all worthwhile when he catches a glimpse of Natalia Dubrov (Christine Kaufmann), a beautiful young Polish girl who is from an influential family. Against all odds, he manages to catch her eye and ingratiate himself to her. The would-be lovers find ways to secretly meet to carry out their forbidden romance. (The notion of a Polish noblewoman carrying on a love affair with a crude Cossack warrior may seem far-fetched, but if the Cossack is Tony Curtis, I guess anything is possible.) When Andrei's interest in Natalia is discovered by her brother, a sword fight ensues in which Ostap mortally wounds the Polish army officer. The brothers escape back to the Steppes and the arms of their mother and father but Andrei still pines away for his lost love. Taras rallies the various Cossack tribes to join him in an assault on a city held by Poles. After a vicious battle, he bottles up his enemies inside the walls of the town and begins to starve them out. However, Andrei learns that Natalia is within the city and when plague breaks out, he makes an ill-fated decision to attempt to rescue her. This leads to the film's dramatic and very emotional climactic seen between Taras and Andrei.
"Taras Bulba" has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The transfer is outstanding and is so clear that some of the film's technical weaknesses appear more prominent than they probably did on the big screen. The scenes within Kiev are clearly achieved through the use of studio sets and matte paintings. Some scenes have a noticeable graininess to them and in certain cavalry charges, you might observe horsemen moving at sped up motion in the manner of the Keystone Cops. Nevertheless, this is an epic film indeed when it comes to the action sequences. One scene in particular is literally thrilling: the joining of the Cossack warriors on the open plain, all galloping at high speed to Franz Waxman's addictive musical score. The performances are also first-rate with Brynner giving a larger-than-life interpretation of Bulba in manner that no other actor of this era could achieve. Tony Curtis once again overcomes a New York accent (as he did in "The Vikings") and somehow appears completely credible. (An interesting footnote: Bulba's right hand man Shilo is played by Brynner's "Magnificent Seven" co-star Brad Dexter.) Christine Kaufmann was only 16 years old at the time of filming and the on-screen love affair with Tony Curtis replicated itself in real life: they began dating on the set and ended up getting married, though they divorced in 1968.
The Blu-ray disc includes an original trailer that absurdly proclaims, in the typical hyperbole of the day, that the film should be added to the list of "Wonders of the World"! Not quite. But say this for "Taras Bulba": it represents the kind of first rate action adventure epic of which it is often said "They sure as hell don't make 'em like that anymore."
THIS SET SHIPS ON NOVEMBER 11! REMEMBER, THE BLU-RAY SET IS A LIMITED EDITION. ORDER NOW!
"Batman", the classic 1960s TV series, is finally coming to home video after years of legal complications. Warner Home Video will release on Blu-ray and DVD on November 11.
The set will contain all 120 remastered episodes of the the three seasons the show ran and will contain a Batcave full of extras. Among them: a Hotwheels replica of the Batmobile, a letter from Adam West and photos derived from his personal scrapbook and replicas of vintage trading cards.
For more, including a promotional preview, click here.
Twilight Time has released a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray of John Wayne's late-career detective flick "Brannigan". The 1975 film takes Wayne out of the saddle and deposits him squarely in central London ("The Duke's in London. God Save the Queen!" read the tag line on the film poster.). The "fish-out--of-water" crime thriller concept began with Don Siegel's outstanding "Coogan's Bluff" (1968), which inspired Dennis Weaver's hit rip-off TV series "McCloud". Still, the premise works well with Wayne's tough Chicago Irish cop Jim Brannigan sent to London to extradite a top crime figure, much as Clint Eastwood's Coogan was shipped to New York to bring a criminal back to Arizona. Wayne had gone the detective route the year before in "McQ". He had originally been offered the role of Dirty Harry but correctly assumed his fans would not stand for him playing such an anti-Establishment character. Still, the phenomenal success of that movie made him realize that the Western genre was in decline and that he'd better switch gears occasionally to keep his loyal fans on board. Wayne was said to loathe "McQ". It was a downbeat, cynical look at corruption in the police force. Ironically, for many of his fans, it is regarded as one of the best films from the latter part of his career. Teaming Wayne with an ace director, John Sturges, the film provided the Duke with an intelligent script, surprising plot turns and a less-than-larger-than-life character to portray. The movie did fairly well despite Wayne's reservations so perhaps that is why he immediately returned to the crime film genre with "Brannigan". In reality, Wayne had planned to do a detective film with this title for at least a decade. A 1964 trade industry story announced he would begin filming it in "the near East". The project never happened. When it was dusted off a decade later, it was temporarily titled "Joe Battle" before mercifully assuming its original title.
Like "McQ", "Brannigan" is a crime thriller but the two films are far apart in terms of style. "Brannigan" is directed by the underrated Douglas Hickox ("Theatre of Blood", "Zulu Dawn") with emphasis on humor, as we see Wayne immediately learn that the crime kingpin he is to escort home (John Vernon) has been allowed to escape. His counterpart is Scotland Yard Inspector Swan, played by Richard Attenborough. This "Odd Couple"-like teaming of two radically different acting styles is one of the true delights of the film. Both Wayne and Attenborough are clearly enjoying each other's company and their good natured "one-upmanship" provides plenty of genuine laughs. As the two detectives relentlessly track down their man, there are plenty of memorable action highlights including a well-staged car chase that includes a jump over the rising Tower Bridge. There's also a major, well-staged pub brawl that's right out of the John Ford playbook. Director Hickox makes the most of London's fabulous sites, which adds immeasurably to the film's pleasures. (This is only one of two movies to be shot in London's ultra-exclusive private Garrick Club and Hickox makes the most of it, showing off the elegant facility for a sequence in which Brannigan and Swan debate police tactics over lunch.) There is also a spirited, lively performance by Judy Geeson as a young Scotland Yard detective who enjoys a playful but platonic relationship with Brannigan. The supporting cast is a strong one with John Vernon and Mel Ferrer providing the villainy. Ralph Meeker gets relatively prominent billing but his on-screen appearance lasts little more than a minute, indicating some of his footage may have been left on the cutting room floor. The film climaxes with an assassin trying to gun down Brannigan from a speeding car at the old Beckton Gasworks, a ghastly-looking industrial facility that was memorably used for the pre-credits sequence of the 1981 James Bond film "For Your Eyes Only". All of this is set to a zippy jazz score by Dominic Frontiere that is off-beat for a film in this genre. "Brannigan" is not a late-career Wayne classic in the way that "The Cowboys" and "The Shootist" can be regarded. But it is a hell of a lot of fun and provides Wayne with a role that fit him like a glove. Nearing seventy years old, he could still at this point carry off the action sequences credibly.
Original Italian poster
Thankfully, Twilight Time has put some of its considerable artistic resources into this Blu-ray edition, which typically features a superb transfer. The bonus extras include an audio commentary between Judy Geeson and Twilight Time's Nick Redman that is breezy, fun and informative. (Geeson clearly adored Wayne, even though she overheard him refer to her as "an old bag of bones" after she auditioned for her role!) Geeson also provides some silent on set footage taken during the filming of the climax at Beckton Gasworks, which will delight Wayne purists who are anxious to see any previously unreleased footage of the Hollywood icon. There is also an original trailer that amusingly plays up Wayne being out of place in London. Julie Kirgo provides excellent analysis in the accompanying collector's booklet. Highly recommended (even for liberals!).
Probably no genre illustrates the rapid advance of cinematic screen freedoms than the biker movie. The genre debuted in 1953 with Marlon Brando in "The Wild One". The film, which chronicled the virtual takeover of a small California town by a wild motorcycle gang, was considered extremely controversial at the time. The biker film remained largely dormant until the release of Roger Corman's "The Wild Angels" in 1966, which became a surprising boxoffice and media sensation. Only a year or two before, teenage audiences were being fed a steady diet of white bread rock 'n roll films that bore little resemblance to real life. Suddenly, the biker film blatantly presented raging hormones, gang wars, drug use and group sex without apology. Young people patronized these films in droves. With social constraints falling by the minute, the biker films- cheaply made as they were- spoke to the emerging generation that would be defined by hippies, drop-outs and protesters. Suddenly, Elvis movies seemed like entertainment for their parents and grandparents. With the success of "The Wild Angels", imitators galore sprang onto drive-in movie screens across America. The biker films were like any other genre in that some of the entries were poorly done efforts designed to reap a few fast bucks at the box-office, while others had a certain crude efficiency about them. Such a film was "The Glory Stompers", one of the better entries in the biker movie genre. Made in 1967, the film was released by (surprise!) American International, which reaped king's ransoms by producing low-budget exploitation movies. Make no mistake, "The Glory Stompers" is indeed an exploitation movie with little redeeming value beyond it's interesting cast. Dennis Hopper, in full psycho mode, top-lines as Chino, the leader of a brutal biker gang known as The Black Souls. After being dissed by members of the rival Glory Stompers gang, Chino and his posse track down a Glory Stomper, Darryl (Jody McCrea) who is with his gorgeous blonde girlfriend Chris (Chris Noel). Chris is badgering Darryl to leave the biker lifestyle and do something meaningful with his life. They are interrupted by the arrival of the Black Souls, who beat Darryl mercilessly. Believing him to be dead, Chino orders the gang to kidnap Chris to prevent her from filing murder charges against them. Chino advises the group that they will transport her by bike several hundred miles into Mexico, where he has arranged to sell her into white slavery. Unbeknownst to them, however, Darryl recovers from his wounds and immediately sets out to rescue Chris. Along the way he meets a former fellow Glory Stomper, Smiley (former Tarzan star Jock Mahoney), who agrees to join the rescue effort. The eventually pick up one other ally and his girlfriend and head into Mexico in hot pursuit of the Black Souls.
The film features a good deal of padding with extended shots of the bikers cruising down highways or navigating over sandy desert roads. There's also a good deal of footage devoted to sexploitaiton, with topless biker women riding rampant through drug-fueled orgies and the requisite cat right between jealous biker "mamas". This was pretty shocking stuff back in the day and gives the movie a relatively contemporary feel (even though today's Hell's Angels are primarily known for organizing charity fund raisers.) The cast is rather interesting and it's apparent that Hopper's presence in films like this clearly gave him street cred when he decided to make "Easy Rider". Chris Noel is quite stunning as the kidnap victim who must use psychology to avoid frequent attempts by her captors to rape her. She's also a good actress who brings a degree of dignity to the otherwise sordid on-goings. Jock Mahoney is the grizzled biker veteran who puts loyalty above his personal safety and it's refreshing to see him wearing attire that goes beyond a loin cloth. Jody McRae, son of Joel McRae, is a bland but efficient hero. The supporting cast includes ubiquitous screen villain Robert Tessier and future music industry phenomenon Casey Kassem (!), who co-produced the movie. The direction by Anthony M. Lanza is uninspired but efficient and the cinematography by Mario Tosi (billed here as Mario Tossi) is surprisingly impressive, which explains why he became a top name in "A"-grade studio productions. The rock music tracks, produced by Mike Curb, are awful. Curb was a Boy Wonder at the time, producing memorable music scores for American International films such as "The Wild Angels" and "Wild in the Streets". Here, he's clearly slacking. Curb composed the score with Davie Allan but the duo insert jaunty, upbeat tunes during moments that call for suspense-laden tracks. Nevertheless, the film remains consistently entertaining and stands as one of the better entries in this genre.
MGM has released "The Glory Stompers" as a burn-to-order DVD. Despite some initial artifacts present in the opening sequence, the print is crisp and clean. There are no bonus extras.
The 8mm stag movie "loops" that defined the pornography industry until the advent of home video were generally considered to be the Rodney Dangerfields of the cinematic medium in that they didn't get no respect. Of late, however, a number of niche DVD labels have turned to exploiting this sexploitation. The latest is Cult Epics which has released "Vintage Erotica anno 1970", a somewhat unusual collection of 8mm porn shorts that that were defined by the fact that they had longer running times than the loops shown in "private viewing booths" in porn palaces located in red light districts in major cities around the world. The films included on this DVD have some degree of production values and make at least a feeble attempt to present a narrative. These short films have running times between 15 and 30 minutes. All were titles and scripted and some had recorded sound while others were shot as silent movies with a musical soundtrack added later. The shorts presented here are all from Europe and were filmed in the early 1970s. The initial offering features a couple of dozen hippies converging on an isolated wilderness area. They are carrying signs indicating that they are engaging in a "Love-in". They don't waste any time, either, getting down to having an orgy in between strumming folk music on guitars. This was a silent film and a perky, upbeat light rock score has been added. Other segments presented vary from serious attempts to present erotic situations to the age-old tradition of including slapstick comedy in the various scenarios.
Cult Epics has presented these films via a new transfer but there is still varying color quality, blotches and other imperfections. Somehow such deficiencies only add to the enjoyment of watching such fare. As lighthearted as some of the films are, keep in mind these are hardcore productions that leave nothing to the imagination. The clothing may be from the garish 1970s but there are certain consistencies with today's erotic movies, given the fact that no matter how imaginative the participants are, there is still only a finite number of acts that can be performed by men and women (and, given the genre, women and women.) There is a certain innocence to this type of erotica, however. Unlike much of today's porn, which is often defined by acts of violence or outright perversions, these films recall a more -shall we say "wholesome"?- era for the genre. The participants are all happy-go-lucky, the sex is innocent and guilt-free and the scenarios recall an era in which Jerry Lewis-like comedy could actually be combined into hardcore films. Quite obviously, such films are not everyone's cup of tea. However, if you have fond memories of sneaking a peak at such "forbidden fare" when you were young, the Cult Epics release merits "must see" viewing status.
As regular readers know, I have a soft spot in my heart for "B" spy movies of the 1960s. But you'd have to have a soft spot in your head to find much value in "Salt & Pepper", a 1968 Bond spoof with former Rat Packers Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford slumming for a quick paycheck and a good time in London. The film was improbably directed by Richard Donner, who displays none of the skills that would make him a world-class action movie director in the next decade. However, Donner is given some pretty skimpy material to work with. The hobbled-together screenplay finds Salt and Pepper as local legends in London's Soho district, then the epicenter of the mod movement. It's a measure of the script's level of wit that Salt is played by Davis and Pepper is played by Lawford (get it?). The duo operate Soho's hippest and most exclusive nightclub. Pepper represents old world elegance, strolling his domain in a tuxedo while Salt appeals to the "mods" by dressing in some eye-popping outfits that even Liberace would have considered to be over-the-top. The two men are happily ensconed in their world of go-go girls, chain smoking and sex with willing younger women when they become embroiled in an espionage plot that involves the hijacking of a Royal Navy nuclear submarine as part of a plan to bring about a coup in the British government. Salt & Pepper try to alert the authorities but are disbelieved. They are also framed for a series of murders and are being constantly harassed by a local police inspector (Michael Bates), a relentless grouch who, in another sign of the screenwriter's level of wit, is named Inspector Crabbe. The film consists of a series of endless chases including a bizarre central action sequence in which Salt & Pepper somehow employ their own gadget-laden spy car, albeit one that doesn't function very effectively. Even in the midst of an absurd comedy such as this, there has to be some degree of logic. It's never explained why two nightclub owners would be in possession of a super spy car. There are endless scenes of Salt & Pepper being locked in various rooms and using improbable means to escape. Davis is a ball of energy and even gets to sign a bad song in a disco sequence that at least features the redeeming quality of go-go girls in mini-skirts.
Davis and Lawford are fun to watch together and there is an occasional modestly amusing joke or set piece. However, the humor largely consists of Davis vamping his idol Jerry Lewis and the sequences with Michael Bates as the police inspector feature silent-era Keystone Cops gags that are not only cringe-inducing but were about as relevant in the late 1960s as Fatty Arbuckle. The only distinction that sets the film apart from the Eurotrash spy movies of the day is the use of some exotic locations in the British countryside. Beyond that, however, the movie suffers from awful rear-screen projection and sets that look like a high school production of a Bond epic. Nevertheless, "Salt & Pepper" did find an audience and was sufficiently successful to merit a sequel, "One More Time" which was directed by -wait for it!- Jerry Lewis.
Some years ago I hosted a black tie dinner in honor of Sir Roger Moore at New York's famed club The Players. While interviewing him on stage, I asked him what he thought his best film performances were. Moore thought pensively for a moment or two and said, "None of them!" With tongue finally out of cheek, Moore explained that, with the exception of the little-seen 1970 cult movie The Man Who Haunted Himself- he had found success by essentially playing the same character. The names would change, so would the era, but the mannerisms that his fans warmed to were always firmly in place. Moore clearly feels its best to stick to a winning formula rather than have a bold departure from his usual traits backfire, a la John Wayne as Genghis Khan in "The Conqueror". It's hard to be overly critical of an actor with such an admirable tendency toward self-deprecating humor. Moore has become Britain's version of Jimmy Stewart- an avuncular, national treasure who seemingly has no enemies in high places. Nevertheless, Moore would be the first to admit to appearing in any number of cinematic misfires. Although wildly successful on television, Moore's big screen career has a checkered history. His Bond films were predictable blockbusters and "The Wild Geese" and "The Sea Wolves" did very well internationally, even though they tanked in the USA. His "Cannonball Run" may have been awful but the all star cast propelled it to the top of the boxoffice charts. Beyond that, however, even some of the better films he appeared in such as "Gold", "Shout at the Devil" and "ffolkes" (aka "North Sea Hijack") never found the audience they deserved.
One of Moore's more ambitious and curious ventures, "Sherlock Holmes in New York", has been released by Fox as a burn-to-order DVD. The 1976 made for television project was telecast with great fanfare on NBC. (Moore made the movie between his second and third Bond flicks, "The Man With the Golden Gun" and "The Spy Who Loved Me".) He breaks no new ground in his interpretation of the legendary detective, but then again he slips comfortably into the role, bringing the same traits that characterized his performance as Bond and The Saint. To his credit, he never camps it up or goes for an over-the-top laugh (if only he had shown such restraint in the more embarrassing moments of his Bond films.) The movie, directed by the respected Boris Sagal, presents Holmes and Watson (Patrick Macnee) being summoned to New York when they receive word that Irene Adler (Charlotte Rampling) may be in some mortal danger. Adler, as any Holmes buff knows, is the only one who ever got under Holmes's skin. By actually outwitting him in a case, she earned his respect and caused the legendary detective to deal with some inconvenient romantic notions. It's best not to reveal too much about a Holmes story so that the viewer can experience a few surprises along the way. The film does set up the main story line in the opening sequence in which Holmes (wearing an embarrassingly obvious disguise) confronts his arch nemesis, Prof. Moriarty (John Huston) in his London lair. The two men exchange witticisms and insults and Moriarty vows vengeance for Holmes spoiling his latest criminal scheme. Moriarty promises that he will put Holmes in a situation in which he will be forced to abstain from helping authorities thwart one of his most ambitious crimes, thereby tarnishing the great detective's reputation forever.
If the plot is a bit tame and flabby, the cast is a great deal of fun to watch. Patrick Macnee plays Watson somewhat in the vein of Nigel Bruce but doesn't make him overtly useless- and, in fact, he actually saves Holmes life at one point. (Macnee and Moore would reunite in 1981 for the feature film "The Sea Wolves" and in 1985 for Moore's final 007 flick "A View to a Kill".) Huston excels as Moriarty but his scenes are far too limited and only book end the main story. The film was done rather on the cheap and all but one sequence was filmed in a studio, rather surprising considering the luster of the cast members involved. The script does have one rather surprising development about Holmes' personal life revealed as the shock ending...but to say more would be to say too much.
"Sherlock Holmes in New York" isn't one of the top entries in the Holmes canon, but any time you can see Roger Moore, Patrick Macnee and John Huston sharing scenes, it's a worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours.
Impulse Pictures has improbably resurrected the bottom of the barrel porn vignettes from the 1960s and 1970s- commonly known as "peep show" films- into DVD releases that actually have some social significance. First, some background. In the uptight era of the 1950s through early 1960s, even a hint of sex on screen usually resulted in censorship or arrest and prosecution. The main stream, big studios- in an attempt to prevent the establishment of an office of government censorship- took draconian measures to ensure they censored themselves by adhering to codes of ethics that watered down adult films every bit as much as any government entity was likely to do. Where would sexually frustrated men seek cinematic satisfaction? About the only venue available were 8mm stag films, which were primarily shown in private homes behind closed doors. Generally these were forbidden fruit shown at bachelor parties or perhaps added some spice to the marital bed if a man had a truly progressive wife. Men who lived in or near big cities could purchase reels of these films in "red light districts". If you lived in small town America, you were generally out of luck. When New York's 42nd Street made a sharp turn towards vice in the 1960s, porn parlor flourished along the notorious stretch. You could not only purchase reels of silent stag films for home viewing, but the era of the "peep show" also came about. A horny guy could enter a telephone booth-sized private cubicle and insert some coins into a machine and- Presto!- a dirty movie would start playing right before his very eyes. Frustratingly, the movie would end after a few minutes, thus ensuring the viewer would continue to insert more coins to see the climax (pardon the pun.) The films ran anywhere from five to ten minutes. Accordingly, story lines and production values were virtually non-existent because the action had to start almost immediately. From such modest cinematic achievements, some faces became well-known to patrons. John Holmes (aka "Long Johnny Wadd"), whose substantial physical asset became his trademark, was a ubiquitous presence in these films and some of the more prolific "actresses" also got their starts in these modest productions. As censorship laws slackened in the wake of the sexual revolution, production values increased within the porn industry and relatively high budget feature films played sometimes for months at a time in actual theaters. Among the more notorious: "Deep Throat", "The Devil in Miss Jones" and "Behind the Green Door", each of which became a pop culture sensation. Still, there was-and still is- a place for peep show fare among the remaining grindhouses in red light districts around the world.
Impulse Pictures has released a number of volumes consisting of numerous silent peep show flicks. Amusingly, they have added the sound of a whirring projector to the soundtrack. They have also shown the archival footage in its raw, primitive state, complete with original spice marks and blotches in order to recreate the experience of how these films were initially seen. What adds some "social significance" to these releases is the accompanying booklet with incisive essays by Robin Bougie, a self-professed scholar of sleeze movies. He runs a web site at www.cinemasewer.com and has an extensive knowledge of the genre. In Vol. #1 of the "Peep Show Collection", Bougie astutely points out that it took until the release of Sidney Lumet's "The Pawnbroker" in 1965 before American adult audiences could even be shown a glimpse of naked breasts in a mainstream studio release. Bougie points out that, although these 8mm loops are as bare-bones as one can imagine, there was a sense of fun that is lacking from today's coarser porn flicks. He also provides valuable insights into identifying future porn stars in these loops, including Marc Stevens, Annie Sprinkle and Lisa DeLeeuw. (John Holmes doesn't require any identification beyond his trademark appendage.) Most of the actresses in the films, however, were simply free-spirited young women who involved in the counter-culture. Many thought that by appearing in such films, they were thumbing their nose at the Establishment. Others were probably less politically inclined and did the films simply to make a few quick dollars. Still others just liked the notion of free, liberated sex after coming out of a period of social repression. In any event, it may not be pleasing to these ladies, many of whom are now grandmothers today, that these obscure, long-forgotten stag films are now being dressed up and issued on DVD.
Bougie also delves back into the origins of the peep show films, tracing them to one Lasse Braun, who used an inheritance to finance the first of these films for European audiences. They were then imported to America by a man named Reuben Sturman, who distributed them to 60,000 porn shops. Thus, the era of the peep show was born.
This collection obviously isn't for everyone. The films are definitely hardcore and leave nothing to the imagination. But if it's possible for someone to get sentimental about such fare, this collection will fit the bill. Perhaps the value of the adult entertainment industry of this era is best summed up by a quote from Norman Mailer that Bougie cites in his essay: "There was something exciting about pornography. It lived in some mid-world between crime and art. And it was adventurous."
You have to be a bit courageous to name a documentary
“Boredom,” knowing it will eventually land in the hands of a snarky reviewer
looking for an easy joke. Albert Nerenberg, the director behind other
documentaries looking at everyday phenomena (“Laughology,” “Stupidity”) wanted
to explore this common life experience: what boredom is, how it happens, and
what effects it has on people.
In doing so, Nerenberg uses a variety of filmmaking
styles, from research presented by experts, to B-roll and stock footage, to
dramatizations and “Daily Show” style interviews meant as much to amuse as
Nerenberg warns us early on that there isn’t much
research on the actual topic of boredom. It’s apparently a subject that sparks
more curiosity and questions than it does answers.The documentary does pull
together a variety of experts, however, from psychologists and neurologists to
scholars on topics like education and technology. The film is for the most part
entertaining, though it does miss the mark a little by giving equal weight to
these experts and more anecdotal evidence on the effects of boredom, provided
by interview subjects. These include adrenaline junkies, drug addicts and a
professional public relations man who runs The Boredom Institute, an institute
in name only of which he is the only member, created mostly to generate buzz.
The DVD, released by Entertainment One, moves along nicely
at a brisk 61 minutes. (A clever bonus feature includes a version of the film sped up
10%, clocking it in at a more manageable 48 minutes.) The DVD also has a
three-minute featurette on the stages of boredom and a four-minute feature on a
proposed artificial mountain in Holland to add interest to the country’s
otherwise flat landscape.
While there is some interesting information to be found
in the film, it works more as infotainment than profound research. Think of it
as more of today’s version of a Discovery Channel documentary than the
scholarly programs of the 1990s.
In short, there are plenty of less interesting ways you
could spend an hour than watching this film- and at least “Bordom” is never
Birkin, Anita Pallenberg, a character named “Penny Lane,” sitar music by George
Harrison, Mod set design, Carnaby Street fashions, trippy psychedelic colors --
if you need a late-‘60s cultural fix and you’re short a time machine, Joe
Massot’s “Wonderwall” (1968) may be your next best remedy.
scientist Oscar Collins (Jack MacGowran) lives a drab existence. At work, he peers through a microscope at
wriggling microbes. At home in his
solitary apartment, he reads Scientific American amid piles of bundled back
issues. One evening, he accidentally
knocks a hole in the wall that allows him to peer into the adjoining apartment,
occupied by a pretty aspiring model named Penny Lane (Birkin). Oscar’s flat looks like a disheveled Hobbit
hole. Penny’s is a swirl of vivid Pop
Art colors. Becoming infatuated and then
obsessed, Oscar devises additional ways to spy on his neighbor. When Penny holds a party, Oscar dresses up in
a tuxedo but remains in his apartment, watching through the peep hole. He imagines a series of chaste romantic
encounters with Penny, and a series of comic duels with Penny’s boyfriend (Iain
Quarrier) involving increasingly absurd phallic objects.
at Cannes but never released theatrically in the U.S., “Wonderwall” on the
surface seems like a whimsical variation on Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” (1966)
and “What?” (1972) -- no coincidence,
since it was based on a story by Gérard Brach, Polanski’s friend and longtime
collaborator. MacGowran’s cartoonish
demeanor, art director Assheton Gorton’s eye-popping color palette, the silly
visuals in Oscar’s daydreams, and George Harrison’s eclectic score reinforce the
first impression that this is a comedy, not a downer like Polanski’s
psychodramas. But the movie is more
elusive than that. It definitely avoids
the predictable formula of today’s romantic comedies, in which Oscar would be
played by Matthew McConaughey or Ben Stiller, the voyeurism would be toned down,
and Oscar and Penny would eventually get together -- sort of the same way Kaley
Cuoco’s Penny and her nerdy scientist neighbor Leonard got together on TV’s
“The Big Bang Theory.” Massot, Brach,
and screenwriter Guillermo Cabrera Infante (“Vanishing Point”) devise an ending
that may be happy, sad, or cosmically transcendent, depending on how you
Very much reminiscent of other Mod-era films like “Blow-Up,”
“2001,” “If . . .,” and “Candy,” “Wonderwall” is given a welcome rescue from
obscurity by Fabulous Films and Shout Factory. The Blu-ray Collector’s Edition includes the original theatrical version
restored in hi-def by Pinewood Studios, a director’s cut assembled by Massot in
the late 1990s, and numerous extras. A
glossy, colorful souvenir booklet highlights Massot’s reflections about the
making of the film, written in 2000, two years before his death, with fond and
sometimes poignant memories of hanging with the Beatles, Polanski, Sharon Tate,
Eric Clapton, and others in the Swinging ‘60s. The Fabulous Films/Shout Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray can be ordered from Amazon by CLICKING HERE.
general consensus among fans of “Adult Films” (a.k.a. pornography movies) is
that the genre floundered and died because of the advance of technology. The
first blow was the mass adoption of VCRs in the 1980s. This was initially seen
as a major boon to the smut industry because
video cassettes allowed porn into the home where it could be watched in
secrecy. But the ravenous appetite of the back room video shops for product made
cheap, fast productions more enticing for producers, thus bringing the quality
down further and further with each passing year. The second and most deadly hit
was the creation of the internet, which made porn available at the click of a
button and made the consumer contemptuous of paying for the product at all. Now
that it is possible to see almost any combination of human bodies in almost any
form of sexual activity that you can imagine instantaneously what is to become
of the long form film version of pornography? Who will preserve old school
narrative adult movies from the old days of porno? Vinegar Syndrome will! The
DVD label seems intent on bringing us every possible opportunity to wallow in
sleaze from decades past and taste is no barrier.
Blue (1978) is one of those films that hails from that magic time before the
death of narrative porn –from before the time when the very idea of having to
follow a story to see people copulate onscreen caused puzzlement in a viewer.
Yes, this film is from the ‘Golden Age’ of pornography when smut peddlers saw
porn as just another form of profitable storytelling. As crazy as it may seem
from the 21st century perspective, there was a time when porn was seen as just
another form of motion picture art and the genre was the cutting edge of
boundary pushing. "Let's make the old folks uncomfortable - let's make a
sex film!" But, of course, that
wasn't the only impetus behind making porn. In those days there were people
that wanted to make solid, credible movies that just happened to have several
scenes of sex scattered about the running time. During this short lived time
there were some well produced pornographic movies that had high budgets and
pretty good scripts but, as you might expect, the vast majority were lower down
on the quality scale. Indeed, once the Fast Forward button became a reality,
any pretensions about crafting ‘artful films’ for the porn market became a
silly notion. People were watching these movies for one reason only- titillation
- and if the movie skimped on that front it was reviled, or worse,
do you review a film that opens on a shot of a woman orally pleasuring a man in
an ape suit? Like this- Jungle Blue tells us the tale of Jane (Kathie Kori) who
is in search of her missing father in the jungles of Peru. She arrives in that
country with a group of friends including Silvia (Nina Fause) who has convinced
Jane (by lesbian seduction we learn in one of many flashbacks) to let her and
Hank (Hank Lardner) join her on the trip. These two are posing as botanists
searching for healing herbs in the jungle plant life but are actually in search
of a hidden treasure of precious jewels that they believe are guarded by tribe
Jane's father was studying. Once in the jungle they meet loin-clothed white man
Evor (Bigg John) who is called by native the lord of the jungle. Looking very
Tarzan-like, Evor is a gentleman in every way and is the center of much
spirited attention from both Jane and Sylvia. Inevitably, both get to “know”
him- if you know what I mean.
a truly bizarre turn, Evor explains that he was created in the jungle like Adam,
with no Earthly parents and a natural innocence that not even sex with multiple
women in a single day can ruin. This needless fantasy element adds a touch of
extra silliness to the proceedings that pays off later in the film when we see
that even a gut full of bullets can't seem to kill the studly Jungle King. Of
course we learn that Jane's father has died and there is some grief-stricken
sexual activity to help keep our interests from flagging. All goes well until
the group locates that (not so) hidden tribe when Silvia and Hank put their
secret plan to poison everyone with candy into effect. The evil twosome hope to
cash in and make off to Brazil with the jewels to live a life of hedonistic
fun. As you might expect, things don't go as planned.
this film is a good example of the majority of narrative porn movies of the
1970s then I can see why the genre died. This movie is a damned mess from
beginning to end with the only draw being the actual sex scenes. Everything is
poorly done. The actors are mostly clueless, the script is a third-grader's
idea of a dirty Tarzan story and the stupid 'steal the jewels' plot is dropped
in so randomly halfway through the movie that it seems like a later addition to
the whole thing. Adding to this general slapdash feel is the fact that one sex
scene is repeated a couple of times and sloppy inserts are used to imply that Kathie
Kori actually performed sexually for the cameras. And did I mention the
sequences of an orgy with unrelated characters that are dropped into the film
at random intervals to spice things up? Ugh! Also, this is the first movie I've
seen that uses shots of the movie's poster to display the opening credits - now
that is an effective way to save money.
is not a film to my tastes but I am still glad that Vinegar Syndrome has
released it and continues to release sleazy titles of this type. These
artifacts from cinema's underbelly are fascinating and worthy of preservation
even if their appeal is quite limited. I suspect that fans of 'classic' porn will
eat this up.
“Alamo Bay” (1985), a film directed by the
late Louis Malle, was an opportunity for the French filmmaker, who directed “Atlantic
City,” “My Dinner with Andre,” and “Elevator to the Gallows,” to add another
great film to his resume. Unfortunately, the movie, based on the true story of
conflict between American and Vietnamese fisherman in Texas, is an opportunity
In the years following the Fall of Saigon
in 1975, a million Vietnamese refugees fled to the U.S. Some of them settled in
communities along the Texas Gulf Coast. Their mere presence antagonized the
local fisherman, many of whom were Vietnam vets. One in particular, Shang
Pierce (Ed Harris) hates “gooks” and feels threatened by the competition of the
Vietnamese, who proved to be excellent fishermen and hard workers. He’s
married, but, of course, his wife is a nag, so he resumes an affair with Glory (Harris’s real life wife Amy Madigan), who has
come back to Alamo Bay to help her ailing father Wally (Donald Moffat) run his
shrimp wholesale business. The film centers on the tensions that build between
them when Shang loses his boat because of missed payments. He blames Glory and
her father for hiring Vietnamese fisherman.
Into this seething caldron of resentment,
comes Dinh (Ho Nguyen) a young Vietnamese immigrant looking for relatives who
live there. He lands a job at Wally’s, putting himself in the middle of the
conflict between Glory and Shang. When Glory defends Dinh’s right to work,
Shang perceives it as a betrayal and thinks she has more than just a
humanitarian interest in the young man.
Tensions build between the American and
Asian shrimpers. Malle and screenwriter Alice Arlen, do a good job showing the
escalation of bad feelings, and have no compunction about presenting a
one-sided view of the conflict. The Vietnamese are shown as good people who
only want to work hard, live a peaceful life, and be able to pursue their
version of the American Dream. The Americans, for the most part, are shown as
bigoted rednecks, who want the Vietnamese gone. Enter Ku Klux Klan organizer
(William Frankfurter), who tells them history has shown white people will
prevail. He begins to outline a strategy. But Shang has no patience for slow
tactics. He wants action.
The next morning armed men, some with KKK
robes and hoods, go out in their boats and take some pot shots at the Asians.
Violence increases as crosses are burned and Molotov cocktails tossed.
With this basic situation, based as it is
on real-life events, this should have been a compelling, emotionally-involving
film. But, somehow, it isn’t. Arlen’s script may be the problem. Arlen, who
co-wrote “Silkwood,” another socially conscious film, hasn’t pulled her punches
as far as showing which side she’s on. But when it is laid on this heavily,
when characters become stereotypes. who seem to exist only to prove a point,
the drama is undermined by polemic. And, oddly enough, where there should be
commentary on the racism and injustice in the story, Malle instead, presents
the scenes of hatred and violence in a flat documentary-like style, that leaves
you uninvolved. I kept thinking what Oliver Stone would have done with a story
“Alamo Bay”’s greatest failure, however, is
the lack of insight into the character of Dinh, who is presented as a positive-thinking
hard worker who just wants to fit in and achieve success. Since he is really
the central character of this story, as a symbolic representation of the entire
Vietnamese community, the filmmakers should have invested more depth to his
character. Nowhere are we shown the real impact the situation in Alamo Bay has
on him personally. Even worse there was a real chance to explore the whole
tragic series of events that resulted in him and his people having to leave
their country. There is one only one almost ludicrous exchange of dialog
between Dinh and Glory where she asks what happened to him in Vietnam. He says
the Viet Cong raided his village and he had to flee into the jungle. While
hiding there he says he had to eat grass. “Eat Grass!” Glory says, as if it
were the equivalent of surviving the Mai Lai Massacre. A better writer would
have given a deeper picture of what people like Dinh experienced as the result
of war. Eating grass would be pretty low on the list of hardships they had to
Despite its shortcoming, however, “Alamo Bay”
is worth viewing if only because it dares to deal with a subject most
filmmakers would be afraid to tackle. Harris and Madigan, who worked together
in “Places in the Heart,” the excellent HBO flick, “Riders of the Purple Sage,”
and “Pollock” are excellent. Ho Nguyen as Dinh stayed close to the surface of
his character, which was probably what Malle and Arlen wanted of him. And
more’s the pity.
“Alamo Bay,” is a one of the limited
edition (3,000 copies) Blu-Ray discs from Twilight Time. Aside from a separate
audio channel for Ry Cooder’s atmospheric score, the theatrical trailer, and a
booklet giving some background on the story written by Julie Kirgo, there are
no extras. An audio commentary, at least by Harris, Madigan or Arlen, would
seem to be a required feature for a disc selling at $29.99. But that’s all you
The transfer to Blu-Ray, however, is
flawless and the 1.0 DTS HD Master audio is very good. It’s disappointing that
the original film did not have a stereo soundtrack, but the separate track for Cooder’s
music (which is similar to the score he wrote for “Paris, Texas)” is in stereo
and sounds just fantastic.
Bottom line: “Alamo Bay” deserves viewing.
It’s a worthwhile attempt to make a serious film about an important subject. Louis
Malle is no longer with us, but thank goodness there are always a few directors
around, like him, who dare to make such films. They are, sadly, becoming an
endangered species. Kudos to Twilight Time for preserving this one to Blu-Ray.
come to the conclusion that there’s rarely been a bad submarine movie. The typical
film in this peculiar genre has a little something for every movie fan: action,
adventure, suspense, drama, claustrophobia, torpedoes, mine fields, depth
charges and silent running. The plot structure is similar to that of aircraft
disaster movies except submarines have to navigate the aforementioned mine
fields and depth charges and get to fire torpedoes.
Run” is no exception to my rule. The movie features Glenn Ford as skipper of
the Greyfish, Lt. Cmdr. Barney Doyle, and Ernest Borgnine as his executive
officer and best friend, Lt. Archer “Archie” Sloan. Like most submarine movies,
the action takes place within the narrow passageways of the sub and we get to
see a few underwater model shots of the Greyfish diving, navigating a mine
field and surviving depth charges.
do get a change of scenery throughout the movie, primarily in flashbacks of the
two friends during happier times just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. They’re
stationed in the Philippines when Ford receives orders to set sail. Ford’s wife
and daughter are captured by the Japanese a short time later and sent to Japan
on a POW transport ship.
transport ship travels along side the aircraft carrier Shinaru, a fictional
stand-in for one of the Japanese carriers that launched the air attack on Pearl
Harbor. Ford receives word of the Shinaru’s location as well as word that his
wife and daughter are being used as human shields along with 1,400 other allied
prisoners onboard the transport ship. Sinking the Shinaru will be a huge
propaganda boon and moral booster, but launching torpedoes is tricky business
and one may hit the transport ship.
fires on the carrier, but hits the transport ship, killing everyone on board including
his wife and daughter. Ridden with guilt and filled with vengeance, he’s
obsessed with the single minded purpose of destroying the Shinaru. The rest of
the movie takes a Melvillian turn with Ford as Ahab seeking out his white
whale, the Shinaru.
is terrific as the Greyfish skipper. He’s earnest and believable as Barney
Doyle and calls upon his trademark ability
to play tough, yet compassionate good guys, as he had in scores of westerns, dramas and light
comedies as well as grittier fare such as “Blackboard Jungle,” “Gilda” and “The
of earnest, Ernest Borgnine is equally good as Archie Sloan. Borgnine and Ford
play off each other rather well in what would be an otherwise routine action
movie. Borgnine is one of the great Hollywood character actors known primarily
for playing heavies, tough guys and nut-burgers in scores of movies on the big
screen. However, he was versatile enough to play the occasional lead and the
rare nice guy such as in his Oscar winning turn in “Marty” from 1955.
TV fans will undoubtedly be slightly distracted- as I was- seeing Borgnine in
naval uniform. It’s a minor and unintentionally humorous issue because Borgnine
is so closely identified as Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale, a role he would make his
own a few years after the release of this movie in the popular TV comedy
series, “McHales’s Navy,” from 1962 to 1966 and in one spin-off movie. I’m
almost expecting Borgnine to say, “Okay you guys, knock it off!” and, “Stall ‘em!
I don't care how you do it but stall ‘em!” Fortunately, Capt. Binghamton does
not turn up shouting, “What is it McHale, what do you want? What, what, what?”
Brewster appears in the only major female role as Ford’s wife Jane Doyle in the
flashback scenes. Dean Jones appears as a young officer, Lt. Jake “Fuzzy”
Foley. LQ Jones and Don Keefer play crew members and Robert Hardy is on hand as
a Royal Navy liaison officer observing the use of the sub’s new sonar equipment.
to IMDb, there are a couple of uncredited “blink and you’ll miss them”
appearances in the movie by retro TV stalwarts Frank Gorshin and Robert Reed
who appear as sub crewmen. Virginia Gregg, Maj. Edna Heywood RN in “Operation
Petticoat,” provides the voice of Tokyo Rose.
“Torpedo Run” is not of the same caliber as genuinely classic submarine movies
such as “Das Boot,” “Destination Tokyo,”
“The Enemy Below,” “The Hunt for Red October,” “On the Beach,” “Operation
Pacific,” “Run Silent, Run Deep” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” However, it is very watchable and features all
the typical submarine movie clichés in addition to great effects and fine
performances by Ford and Borgnine.
movie was produced and released by MGM in CinemaScope making good use of the
widescreen, with nice model sequences and well integrated stock footage. The
movie is based on stories by Richard Sale who co-wrote the screenplay. A
prolific writer and sometimes director, Sale is best known as the author of
“The Oscar” and “White Buffalo,” both of which were adapted as movies.
in October 1958, “Torpedo Run” also oddly played on a double bill with “Fiend
Without a Face” in November of that year. March 1958 saw the release of the
similarly themed submarine movie, “Run Silent, Run Deep,” with Clark Gable and
Burt Lancaster. While “Torpedo Run” is a good WWII drama, Ford and Borgnine
can’t quite compete with the performances of Gable and Lancaster and Robert
Wise’s gritty direction.
Run” is a burn to order DVD released as part of the WB Archive Collection. The
movie looks terrific and sounds good. The only extra on the disc is the
theatrical trailer. This is a movie that rarely made the rotation on local TV in
my area when I was a kid, so it was very refreshing to watch it again after so
many years. The film is a welcome addition for any fan of military adventure movies.
The good folks at Scorpion Entertainment have done it again by producing first rate special collector's DVD and Blu-ray editions of a film that most critics dismissed as second rate at the time of its initial release. In this case, the film is "Dogs", which was unleashed (if you pardon the pun) on theaters in 1976, an era in which audiences went mad for movies about animals waging war on humanity. The modestly-budgeted production was shot in southern California on the outskirts of San Diego, with some key scenes filmed at Southwestern University. Directed by Burt Brinckerhoff, who went on to become a popular director of hit TV series, the film is set in an unnamed college in an unnamed town in an unnamed state. Suffice it to say that the area is fairly rural and the townspeople all seem to have connections to the local university. A bearded, shaggy-haired and denim-clad David McCallum is Harlan Thompson, a science instructor at the school, whose counter-culture viewpoints and cynical disposition makes him a controversial figure among his peers. Nevertheless, when a series of mysterious and gruesome deaths occur, it is Thompson who is consulted about finding the culprit. Working with a new colleague at the school, Michael Fitzgerald (George Wyner) and the town's sheriff (Eric Server), Thompson is at first baffled by what kind of wild animals would attack humans in a pack and leave their corpses chewed almost beyond recognition. When local dogs begin to act inexplicably vicious towards their owners, Thompson and Fitzgerald theorize that a local top secret government experiment with sensitive chemicals might some how be causing these generally benign household pets to become murderous beasts. In any event, it isn't long before Thompson and Fitzgerald encounter every classic cliched character to be found in horror films of the era. There is the stubborn bureaucrat who refuses to accept that a crisis is at hand. There are the trigger-happy mob members who set off on an ill-fated hunt for the furry fiends. There is the sexy young woman (Pre-"Dallas" Linda Gray) who inevitably feels compelled to take a shower, with predictably disastrous results. (Yes, a Doberman manages to sneak into her bathroom in the film's mandatory homage to "Psycho"). Rounding out the "must-haves" for films of this genre, the climax must place a considerable number of students in imminent danger of suffering gruesome deaths.
Although "Dogs" is a factory of cliches, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the film. It's a true independent production that lacked any studio backing. As such, director Brinckerhoff does yeoman work getting around the obvious budget constraints. Although one assumes the cast and crew had their tongues firmly in their cheeks while shooting the movie, everyone plays it straight and no one goes for an over-the-top laugh. You keep waiting for one of those "so bad, it's good" moments to arrive, but surprisingly, the film remains a rather effective thriller. The premise, of course, is absurd...but so was the premise of Hitchcock's "The Birds", which is clearly the prime inspiration for "Dogs". The notion that any rural town in modern society can be completely cut off from humanity was far fetched when Hitchcock's film was released in 1963 and was even more unrealistic in 1976. You also have to accept the other horror film cliche that occurs routinely in this movie: when people realize they are in imminent danger and have a method of escaping, they find a reason to delay their departure until it is too late. In this case, people who should immediately flee decide to "gather a few things together" first, as though stockpiling deodorant and hair gel would even cross your mind if you were in danger of being ripped apart by a pack of dogs. Refreshingly, however, the heroes of the film, played by McCallum and Wyner, act like true academics would in a crisis situation. They are not turned immediately into superheroes and when they take up arms, it has a tragic consequence. They also make human errors and prove to be wrong in some of their judgments. McCallum's trademark acting style of underplaying a scene has served him well throughout his career. While other actors often over-emote, he can quietly steal a scene even in such star-packed films as "Billy Budd", "The Great Escape" and "The Greatest Story Ever Told." This is an off-beat role for him and he delivers a fine performance. He's matched by George Wyner, who went on to have a very successful career as a character actor in hit comedies, though there is little evidence of his comedic appeal here. The two actors work well together and are joined by a competent supporting cast that includes Sandra McCabe, who nominally serves as McCallum's romantic interest but is really on-screen to provide the necessary "woman in jeopardy" sequences.
The Scorpion special edition DVD includes a campy introduction by their in-house hostess, actress Katarina Leigh Waters, who provides some interesting facts about the production while spoofing the horror film genre. There is also a documentary with recent interviews with Bruce Brinckerhoff, George Wyner, Eric Server and other people who worked on the production. Wyner and Server both talk about being thrilled to work with McCallum, who was the only big star associated with the production. Brinckerhoff, who is clearly proud of the film, discusses how the lack of production funds necessitated some of the actors to do their own stunts, which are uniformly impressive. He also points out the the film was edited by John Wright, who went on to receive two Oscar nominations and is today regarded as a top editor in the industry. The special edition also includes the original theatrical trailer.
"Dogs" had a patchwork release and, to my knowledge, never even played in some key American cities. However, it did sensational business internationally and in rural American areas where its intended audience- the drive-in-crowd - responded to the chilling one sheet poster and the ominously-narrated trailer and TV spots. The flick has held up well over the years and if you view it in the proper context, it remains and effective example of indie filmmaking, both in execution and in marketing.
If you want to "fetch" a copy from Amazon, click here to order DVD edition or click here to order Blu-ray.
(This review pertains to the UK Region 2 DVD release.)
scientist Nils Ahlen (John McCallum) has developed a process via which sound impulses
can be converted into electrical energy. When his wife Helga (Mary Laura Wood)
and assistant Sven (Anthony Dawson) abscond with vital components of the
revolutionary device, Ahlen teams up with Police Inspector Peterson (Jack
Warner) to chase them down. The pursuit takes them into the icy, blizzard-wreathed
wilderness where they seek the assistance of Lapp reindeer herders to help them
survive the perilous terrain.
and directed by thrice Bond-helmer Terence Young more than a decade before he
first brought the celebrated spy to the screen, 1951’s Valley of Eagles was shot over a couple of months in testing
Norwegian weather conditions. The film has taken a fair bit of stick in the
past, the main target of viewer negativity being that what kicks off as a
promising B-grade crime thriller quickly devolves into a life-evaluating
melodrama. A bit disappointing, perhaps, but that doesn’t make it a bad movie,
so – always one to buck the trend – I’m pleased to have the chance to redress
the balance here. There’s no disputing that 60-something years after the fact,
the plotting of Valley of Eagles
could be classed a little mundane; cinema has come a long way in the years
since the picture first saw the light of a projector bulb (though not always
for the better), and mundane is an accusation that could be levelled at a hefty
percentage of the cinematic output of that period. Yet that doesn’t translate
as making it a pointless investment of one’s time.
narrative is never less than engaging, peppered as it is with outbursts of brutality
(wolves are vigorously slain with ski poles) and exotic sex appeal (courtesy of
Nadia Gray, hair appealingly braided, as tough Lapp maiden Lara). There’s also
a terrific set piece in which a pack of wolves assail a team of herders astride
reindeer, the wolves themselves then set upon by the titular birds of prey. The
cast does a serviceable job with the material at hand, particularly an
underused Dawson, the consummate shifty-eyed baddie (see also Dial M for Murder, Dr No and Midnight Lace for
similarly sinister turns). Future Dixon
of Dock Green Jack Warner, here bearing a remarkable resemblance to Bernard
Lee, makes for a staunch lead and if McCallum comes across as a little starchy
that’s because the character he’s portraying is. It’s also nice to see an
early, albeit minor appearance by Christopher Lee wearing an amusingly wide-brimmed
hat. The film certainly benefits from its exhaustive, picturesque location
shoot, with some splendid Harry Waxman cinematography on offer (Pinewood-lensed
back projection shows up only occasionally) and suitably dense, if not
especially memorable Nino Rota compositions serve to underscore the gravity of
the onscreen drama.
Valley of Eagles is
available on DVD from Fabulous Films/Freemantle Media. The print utilised has
certainly seen better days, with a surfeit of light scratches and various
accumulations of detritus in evidence throughout. But one should overlook such
deficiencies and be grateful for this DVD premiere of what I’d have no
hesitation in labelling a “golden oldie”. The disc supplements are slight, though
still worth perusing, and comprise galleries of hand-coloured lobby cards,
press stills and poster art, along with interesting textual material that one
presumes has been lifted from the original release pressbook.
Twilight Time has released Stanley Kramer's 1969 WWII era comedy "The Secret of Santa Vittoria" as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. I hadn't seen the film since it was originally released and only had vague recollections of it. Watching it today, I found the movie to be an absolute delight thanks to a terrific script by Ben Maddow and William Rose (the latter co-wrote Kramer's "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World") and a sterling cast. The film is set in 1943 in the small Italian village of Santa Vittoria. The story opens with a young university studio, Fabio (Giancarlo Giannini in one of his first major roles) who hurries to his native town to breathtakingly inform the residents that Mussolini has just been deposed. The announcement is met with a collective yawn by the townspeople, who have remained largely immune from the effects of the war and their dictator's fascist police state. However, when the towns folk learn that German soldiers will be occupying Santa Vittoria, there is widespread concern. The town's one claim to fame is its production of popular wines which are exported in massive numbers. Everyone in town depends in some way on the revenues from the wine sales and it becomes apparent that the German army intends to confiscate the town's precious inventory. Through happenstance, a local wine merchant, Bombolini (Anthony Quinn) has been appointed mayor. He is regarded as an idiot by everyone including his long-suffering wife Rosa (Anna Magnani), who has grown weary over the decades of trying to cope with his laziness and regular bouts of wine-fueled excesses. Recognizing that the seizure of the town's stockpile of wine will leave the locals destitute, Bombolini devises a seemingly preposterous plan to leave enough wine on hand to satisfy the Germans that they have secured the lion's share of the inventory. Meanwhile, prior to their arrival, the entire town will participate in a massive effort to hide the bulk of the inventory in a local cave and then have a wall constructed to hide the stash. The plan proves surprisingly effective and Bombolini emerges as an unlikely leader, who rallies the locals in the Herculean effort that involves hundreds of townspeople forming seemingly endless lines in which people painstakingly pass hundreds of thousands of bottles from hand to hand one-by-one.
When the German forces finally arrive, they are under the command of Capt. von Prum (Hardy Kruger). He is a civil, even charming, fellow who nevertheless makes it clear to Bombolini that he is no fool. von Prum has anticipated that substantial wine bottles are hidden somewhere but Bombolini, who puts on a respectable act of being a fawning, spineless civil servant, adamantly denies the charge. The tenuous situation is made more dangerous when von Prum turns his attentions to romancing a local beauty, a cultured woman named Caterina (Virna Lisi), who reluctantly plays along with him because she doesn't want to incur his wrath. Seems she is secretly hiding her real lover, an Italian army deserter, Tufa (Sergio Franchi). It seems Bombolini is winning the war of wills but before the Germans can depart with the stores of wine, the Gestapo arrives with evidence that a cache has indeed been hidden. The frolicking good times seem over for the townspeople when von Prum's methods are overruled in favor of torture.
The Secret of Santa Vittoria is a truly underrated gem with one of those glorious, scenery-chewing performances that only Anthony Quinn could successfully pull off without looking hammy. He's in full Zorba mode here, turning the lowly and discredited town idiot into a figure of courage and nobility. Quinn is more than matched by Anna Magnani as his fiery-tongued wife. They are like an Italian version of Ralph and Alice Kramden, constantly trading barbs and insults in sequences that are genuinely amusing. It's also fun watching the scenes in which the beleaguered Bombolini must also deal with his teenage daughter's (Patrizia Valturri) raging hormones and her quest to lose her virginity to her student lover, Fabio. Director Kramer is at his best and the sequences in which the townspeople join together to hide the wine are almost epic in scope. It's a touching, funny and moving film that is set to a fabulous score by frequent Kramer collaborate Ernest Gold.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray provides a terrific transfer an isolated track score, the original trailer and an informative collector's book with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Highly recommended.
folks at Warner Archives have just released a burn-to-order DVD collectionthat
includes all the M-G-M shorts that the Three Stooges made at that legendary studio
with their one-time manager Ted Healy. “Classic Shorts from the Dream Factory
Volume 3” featuring Howard, Fine and Howard (aka Moe, Larry and Curly) features
six zany shorts that need to be seen to
be believed. They are:
(1933) wherein Ted Healy attempts to get through a song with interruptions from
the Stooges in between big production numbers from M-G-M's feature film “Flying
High”. The Stooges’ routine is based on their vaudeville stage act.
and Movies” (1934) is a two-color Technicolor short that features Jerry (Curly)
Howard -without Moe & Larry- acting in support of Greek-dialect comedian
George Givot. This short gives Curly the opportunity to act as the middle Stooge
and allows comedian Bobby Callahan to play the kind of character Curly would
normally play. The short incorporates two musical numbers lifted from earlier
M-G-M Technicolor features, "The Chinese
Ballet" (taken from “Lord Byron Of Broadway” (1930) and "Raising The
Dust", which originally from “Children Of Pleasure” (1930).
Idea” (1934) casts Ted Healy as an “Idea Man for Hire” who comes up with insane
concepts for film plots. The Stooges drop in and out playing the old Civil War
tune "Marching Through Georgia" with soaking results. A deleted
number from M-G-M's “Dancing Lady” rounds out this final M-G-M short made by
Pretzels” (1933) presents the second M-G-M short made by Healy and the Stooges.
In this one, we find them being thrown out of work in a theater and getting jobs
as performing waiters in a German-style beer hall with predictable results.
Rhymes” (1933): In this, the first M-G-M short to feature Ted Healy and His
Stooges, the boys play Healy's "sons". Their pleas to their Papa to
tell them a bedtime story leads to a lot of eye gouging, cranium smacking and
hair pulling in the pre-code film. The
use of two-strip Technicolor was predicated on the fact that most of the shorts
in this collection (and many other from M-G-M between 1930 - 1934) were making
use of material from an abandoned feature film M-G-M made in 1930 entitled “The
March of Time”, which had been shot in two-color Technicolor. M-G-M was a
factory known to never waste anything, including valuable film stock. Thus, the
Healy and the Stooges footage was filmed to wrap around these big production
numbers, that were largely designed by ballet's Albertina Rasch (the wife
of legendary film composter composer Dimitri Tiomkin).
“Hello Pop!” (1933) The real prize of this collection is this Technicolor gem.
Restored in 2013 after being lost for over 40 years, this film had its
resurrection last year at Film Forum in New York City. Through the hard work of
The Vitaphone Project, YCM Laboratories and the good folks at Warner Bros.,
this "Holy Grail" for Stooge fans can now be yours. In this short,
Ted Healy is a nervous wreck who is trying to put on a Broadway show. Besides
dealing with temperamental artists (the great Henry Armetta, among them) he has
his three "sons" to deal with, and you can guess who plays them. Two
Technicolor musical numbers round out this short.
quality is excellent, particularly when you consider that “Hello Pop!” was
made from the only existing 35mm print. If you love the Stooges, as well as
historic golden oldies, this release is a “must”. Get it, and sit back and
"NYUK" it up.
(The following review is of
the UK release of the film on Region 2 format.)
In Roy Ward Baker’s 1960s
comedy-drama Two Left Feet, Michael
Crawford plays Alan Crabbe, a clumsy and unlucky-in-love 19-year-old who begins
dating ‘Eileen, the Teacup Queen’, a waitress at his local cafe. She lives in Camden Town and there are rumours
that she’s married, but that doesn’t seem to alter her behavior. Alan and
Eileen travel into London’s ‘Floride Club’, where the Storyville Jazzmen play
trad for the groovers and shakers. Eileen turns out to be a ‘right little madam’,
who is really just stringing Alan along. She’s the kind of girl who only dates
to get into places and then starts chatting to randoms once inside. She takes
up with ruffian Ronnie, while Alan meets a nice girl, Beth Crowley. But Eileen holds
a strange hold over Alan and at a wedding celebration of their friends, Brian
and Mavis, they are caught in bed together – which ruins his relationship with
Beth and gets him on the wrong side of Ronnie and his flick-knife.
‘Two Left Feet’ is a pretty
gritty Brit-com of misunderstood youth and romantic entanglements. It’s the
antithesis of Cliff Richard’s day-glow musical fantasies ‘Summer Holiday’ and
‘The Young Ones’, and closer to kitchen sink dramas: the roughness of ‘Beat
Girl’ or the tragicomedy of ‘Billy Liar’. The inspired cast is a major asset,
with several of the roles providing early opportunities for future stars. Michael
Crawford went on to massive fame in the TV series ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’as clumsy, socially inept Frank
Spencer. He’s also went on to appear in some very good British film comedies in
the 1960s, including ‘The Knack…and How to Get It’, ‘The Jokers’ and ‘How I Won
the War’. Nyree Dawn Porter, cast as Eileen, was memorable as Irene in TV’s ‘The
Forsyte Saga’. Porter is excellent
here as the sexy seductress and lights up the screen whenever she appears.
Another of the clubgoers is played by David Hemmings, who oozes cool and class
as Brian. Julia Foster, from ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ and
‘Alfie’, plays Beth. The
appropriately-named Michael Craze plays psycho Ronnie, Dilys Watling is Brian’s
girl Mavis and Hammer Films’ regular Michael Ripper played her Uncle Reg. Cyril
Chamberlain shows up as garage owner Mr Miles and David Lodge appears Alan’s cocky
co-worker Bill. James Bond’s M crops up
again, with the ubiquitous Bernard Lee playing Alan’s father, a policemen.
British rock ‘n’ roller Tommy Bruce performs the title song, ‘Two Left Feet’, in imitable bellowing style,
while the band in the Cavern-like ‘Floride Club’ is Bob Wallis and His
‘Two Left Feet’ was based
on the 1960 novel ‘In My Solitude’ by David Stewart Leslie. Wide-eyed, but
strangely disillusioned, the protagonists of this story are caught in a period snapshot
between the dour 1950s and the soon-to-be-fab Sixties. The sequences shot in
London, including near the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus, locate the film
historically to a very specific time and place. The cinema billboards display
adverts for ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘How the West Was Won’, but on Alan’s
visits ‘Up West’, he prefers to frequent the more niche ‘Bijou Cinema’, which
is showing Harrison Marks’ nudie feature ‘Naked as Nature Intended’, starring
‘The Fabulous Pamela Green’. The social mores of the era are also to the fore –
when offered a smoke on her way to the club, Eileen is aghast: ‘Cigarette? Not
in the street thank you!’. Membership of the ‘Floride Club’ is 12/6 (a
pre-decimalisation twelve shillings and sixpence) and sensible Alan decides he
can’t get married yet because he’s too young and financially challenged. The
wedding reception has none of the scale of modern wedding celebrations – it’s
just a gathering at a private residence, with a buffet, party games and
sing-song at the piano. The generational gap is keenly delineated in the
relationship between Alan and his father. His father’s generation’s upbringing
was strict – they learned respect, lived by the rules and didn’t question them
– while Alan’s generation is unfettered by such notions. The presumption is
that they can be anything, do anything and be free as air.
‘Two Left Feet’ is part of Network’s
‘The British Film’ collection. It’s another British Lion release shot at
Shepperton Studios and the disc includes an image gallery and promotional
material pdf. It is rated 15 in the UK, presumably for the mild sexual
promiscuity, the prominent use of knives by Ronnie and the beating Alan
receives from Ronnie’s heavies. The film is another interesting 1960s British
film rescued from obscurity and is worth seeing for both Hemmings and Porter,
and the energetic dance moves in the ‘Floride Club’. It’s worth mentioning that
if you like this type of 1960s film, then check out Hemmings’ excellent film ‘Some
People’ (1962), also from Network, with he and Ray Brooks playing bikers who form
a rock ‘n’ roll band.
(This review pertains to the UK Region 2 DVD release)
By Tim Greaves
on the novel “Whispering Woman” by Gerald Verner, 1953’s seldom-seen whodunit Noose for a Lady marked the directorial
debut of Wolf Rilla (Village of the
Damned), and stars a host of reliable British stalwarts. A quaint, cliché
ridden drama, it offers up a modicum of intrigue and sufficient suspense to
tickle the palate of the most jaded aficionado of such fare. It even pulls a
satisfying rabbit out of its hat with a final reveal that this seasoned
reviewer readily admits he hadn’t seen coming. Yes, of course it creaks a
little, but if nothing else it’s guaranteed to hold your attention for its succinct
for the screen by Rex Rienits, it hits the ground running with the sentencing to
death by hanging of Margaret Hallam (Pamela Alan), found guilty of poisoning
her husband, despite her protestations to the contrary. With just seven days
until Margaret’s execution, her stepdaughter Jill (Rona Anderson) decrees she
will find the real killer. Assisted by Margaret’s determined cousin, Simon Gale
(Dennis Price), that’s precisely what she sets out to do.
the requisite ingredients of the quintessential British whodunit are present
and correct here, first and foremost the gathering of deliciously suspicious
characters – each of whom had the means and motive to bump off Hallam – which
includes the barbiturate dispensing doctor (Ronald Howard), the gossiping
spinster (Esma Cannon), the disgraced major (Colin Tapley), the irascible
ex-con (Robert Brown), and family friends with secrets to hide (Charles Lloyd
Pack and Melissa Stribling). These are characters who utter such lines as
“There’s something I must tell you – meet me tonight”, immediately signing
themselves up for an early trip to the grave before they have the opportunity
to blab. Also in situ is that feather-in-the-cap moment for every amateur
sleuth, the Poirot-esque summoning of the suspects to the drawing room to
reveal the killer’s identity. In this instance the murderer is revealed to be…(the
light snaps out…a gunshot sounds…a scream echoes through the darkness)… well, you’ll
just have to buy the DVD to find out.
Noose for a Lady has just been issued
on disc by Network Distributing as another welcome addition to its valuable “The
British Film” collection. A brand new transfer from the original film elements,
aside from a few minor crackles and pops on the soundtrack, it’s a stellar
presentation and well worth investing in. Bonus features comprise a trailer
(preceded by a nostalgia evoking censor’s card classifying it as a “U trailer
advertising an A film”) and a small gallery of promotional art and press
stills. A word about the galleries included on Network’s releases: Even though those
included on many titles are slender affairs, all kudos to the company for
taking the time to assemble such materials instead of taking the easy route and
simply batching together some pointless frame-grabs and peddling them as worthy
supplementary incentive; there have been far too many perpetrators of that crime.
(This review pertains to the UK Region 2 DVD release).
By Tim Greaves
first encountered Lionel Jeffries’ 1973 melodrama Baxter! during the summer of 1978 on what I believe to be its one
and only British television airing by the BBC. Its conspicuous absence on video
in the UK – and, until 2014, DVD – meant that, for me, some 36 years elapsed
between viewings. A small, and in many respects not particularly memorable
film, it nevertheless stayed with me over the intervening years for, I think, two
reasons. The first was its unexpectedly dark nature, which completely caught me
off guard given the family friendly nature of the director’s previous films, The Railway Children and The Amazing Mr Blunden; best remembered
for his myriad of on-screen performances, Baxter!
was in fact the third of only five projects which positioned Jeffries on the
other side of the camera. The second reason that solitary viewing remained
lodged in my psyche was a narrative jolt towards the end involving the demise
of a key character (which the 16 year-old me found extremely upsetting).
the tale of the titular character (played by Scott Jacoby), an American boy who
arrives in London with his insensitive mother (Lynn Carlin) in the wake of her
acrimonious separation from his father (Paul Maxwell). His Christian name is
Roger, unfortunate given the fact he suffers from a speech impediment which
prevents him from pronouncing his R’s, yet he treats his handicap with good
humour. At first Baxter appears to fit in well at school, where he makes easy friends,
and quickly ingratiates himself with other residents in the vicinity of his
home, among them a chef, also named Roger (Jean-Pierre Cassel), his girlfriend
Chris (Britt Ekland) and the irritatingly extrovert teenager ‘Nemo’ (Sally
Thomsett). But it gradually becomes apparent that Baxter’s lonely childhood – starved
of affection by his bickering, self-occupied parents – has scarred him badly.
Can the intervention of school therapist Dr Clemm (Patricia Neal) save the poor
lad before calamity descends?
Audiard’s script handles the maudlin subject matter with care ensuring that it
steers clear of becoming depressing, though it should be noted that anyone
looking for a happy ending is watching the wrong movie. The engaging narrative notwithstanding,
the chief appeal of Baxter! for this
reviewer is the marvellous assembly of players. Cassel’s amiable chef almost steals
the show (the scene in which the two Rogers prepare an evening meal together is
a standout) and Carlin is suitably despicable, while Ekland is gorgeousness
incarnate; one can’t help falling a little bit in love with her. There’s a nice
turn too from Paul Eddington as a sarcastic teacher. Only Neal is a little
disappointing with a role she never seems quite comfortable in. But this is
really Scott Jacoby’s film; a slightly cocky but innately witty teenager,
“Woger” has the audience in his pocket within the first few scenes and the
actor’s performance when Baxter succumbs to a severe case of anxiety carries immense
emotional heft. (As an aside, it’s sobering to note that Jacoby was 16 when the
film was shot – he can now see 60 on his horizon!)
with an infectious Michael J. Lewis score, in summation Baxter! may not exactly be the experience one expects of a Lionel
Jeffries film, but it’s a worthwhile one just the same. The film’s patient admirers
have finally been rewarded, for after 41 years the film surfaces on DVD in the
UK as a constituent of Network Distributing’s ongoing “The British Film”
collection. The pleasing transfer is accompanied by an original theatrical trailer
and a bountiful gallery of promotional stills.
(The following review is of
the UK release of the film, on Region 2 format)
LOVE IS A LOSING GAME
Network continues to
release some unusual examples of retro British cinemabilia. This adaptation of
Graham Greene’s ‘Loser Takes All’ was shot at Shepperton Studios and on
fabulous locations in the Principality of Monaco. At the big London firm SIFA, assistant
accountant Bertrand solves an accounting mistake that impresses his boss
Dreuther so much that he insists Bertrand takes up his very generous (and
highly implausible) offer. Instead of getting married to his fiancée Cary in
Bournemouth as planned, Bertrand can instead get hitched in Monte Carlo, on the
company’s chequebook. Oh, for a boss like Dreuther...
Soon Bertrand and Cary are
living the highlife in the casino capital of Europe, staying in the royal suite
of the hotel and enjoying a lavish holiday. But Dreuther, who’s supposed to
meet them there on his yacht, is delayed, and after they are married, their spending
money runs out. The pair is reduced to living on coffee and bread rolls, until
the hotel manager notes they aren’t spending much money and are avoiding all
the hotel staff at every opportunity, so he lends them 250,000 francs. Bertrand
is a mathematician who wants to try out his system that he thinks will win him
a fortune on the casino tables. After a marathon gambling stint, Bertrand
arrives back at their hotel room to tell Cary that he’s won five million francs.
With great wealth comes a change in personality for Bertrand and he becomes
preoccupied with the acquisition of money and power, even to the point of
buying shares in SIFA and becoming a force in opposition to Dreuther. But his
single-mindedness drives sweet Cary away, into the arms of pipe-smoking smoothy
Philip. Now Bertrand must win back his bride, or it’s Monte Carlo or Bust (up).
As the trailer put it: ‘Here’s a honeymoon that isn’t all honey’.
This movie is as wafting a
piece of Continental fluff as you can imagine – lovely, old-fashioned cosiness
from a bygone age. Italian heartthrob Rossano Brazzi is the impulsive Latino
lead, Bertrand, while British actress Glynis Johns is his charming bride. Tony
Britton played Philip and Robert Morley plays Robert Morley – as he seemed to
do in all his films – as the company’s all-powerful MD Dreuther. Look fast for
a young Shirley Anne Field as Bertrand’s date in the casino. At the time of the
film’s release, ‘Today’s Cinema’ optimistically noted it ‘Has the zest and zing
of a Mediterranean holiday…if the sun never shines again this year, Loser Takes
All will make up for it’. And the admen went to town on the taglines for this
one too, calling it ‘The warmest, wonderful-est, winning-est romance-of-the-year’
and ‘It’s a spectacular CinemascoPeek inside high society’s swankiest
playground’. With dresses by Christian Dior and a light and airy score from
Alessandro Cicognini, this movie scores best in its visual and aural depiction
of Monaco and especially Monte Carlo. The on-location filming livens up the
plot with its breathtaking scenery as a backdrop. There’s a superb sequence of
Bertrand and Cary riding a Vespa on mountain roads, which lead up to a rustic,
folksy village – a setting in massive contrast to the wealth and splendour of
Monte Carlo. In fact it’s to the simplicity of the village that Cary wants to
return when they strike it rich, but Bertrand is too enamoured with the
highlife. While there’s nothing groundbreaking on display in ‘Loser Takes All’,
it’s a pleasant enough scoot, with a bit of romance, a bit of drama, a bit of
comedy, stirred into the mix. Johns is the best aspect of the film and is
highly watchable as the chirpy, quirky newlywed. Greene’s novel was adapted
again in 1990 as ‘Strike it Rich’, with Robert Lindsay and Molly Ringwald as
Bertrand and Cary, and a cast that included John Gielgud (as Dreuther) and
comedian Max Wall.
‘Loser Takes All’ is presented
in the CinemaScope widescreen format and is ‘a brand-new transfer from the
original film elements’. The colours are strong if you boost the colour on the TV,
but the image seems a little soft and could do with a sharpen. ‘Loser Takes
All’ is another addition to Network’s ‘The British Film’ collection, a
five-year project to release over 450 British films via a deal with
Studiocanal. It’s a British Lion release and the disc includes the original
trailer and a gallery of colourful poster artwork. In 1956, the periodical
‘Daily Film Renter’ deemed it ‘Exhilarating as champagne’. If the lovers’ antics seem a little flat 58
years later, there’s always those gorgeous Eastmancolor Monte Carlo vistas to
I was an avid cinema goer
back in the ‘80s and a normal week could consist of up to four visits to sample
the attractions on offer. Luckily I had a cinema 10 minutes from my house as
well as several others in my home town of Newcastle. My local, “The Jesey”, would show films about
2-3 weeks after their initial run “in town” at the likes of The Odeon which premiered
all the big new releases. However, being a fan of less mainstream films, I
would also venture across the river Tyne to places like Gateshead, Low Fell and
Byker, because these less salubrious cinemas across the water would show the
kind of films you wouldn’t find running in the more mainstream chains. A lot of
these were Cannon cinema’s owned by Golan and Globus (subjects of a new
documentary) or just so run down that they’d run everything from Lemon Popsicle
to Flesh Gordon to lesser known Cannon gems such as Lifeforce and Runaway Train.
It never ceases to amaze me that there were still a couple of low budget (but
big in America) fan favourites that would and should have been shown at these
venues that simply passed me by. Those two films were Night Of The Creeps and Night
Of The Comet, both of which I finally got to see this month- the latter 30
years after its initial release, hopefully long enough to be classed as retro
enough forCinema Retro!
As fortune would have it, Night of the Creeps
had its first UK TV showing on Film Four recently and I really loved this film
(to quote a line from it, it did “Thrill Me”.) It was well worth the wait. At
the same time Arrow Video then announced the forthcoming UK Blu-ray and DVD release
of Night of the Comet. I couldn’t
believe my luck. So did the second cult classic of the ‘80s shape up or
disappoint? Well, great films, like comets themselves, only present themselves
every now and again and sometimes burn brighter than they did when first they
first appeared, which is the case here as Night Of The Comet is easily the most
enjoyable film I’ve seen all year.
Eighteen year-old Reggie
(Catherine Mary Stewart – Weekend at Bernie’s, The Last Starfighter) misses out
on the event-of-a-lifetime when she ditches watching the comet in favour of
copping off with the projectionist at the cinema where she works. But this
turns out to be a wise move when, the next day, she discovers that the entire
population has been reduced to piles of red dust – leaving only Reggie, her
sister Sam (Kelli Maroney – Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Chopping Mall) and a
handful of other survivors to fend off the roving gangs of glassy-eyed zombies.
Taking its cue from
classic “doomsday” movies such as The Day of the Triffids and The Omega Man
(and with a healthy dose of Dawn of the Dead thrown in for good measure), Night
of the Comet is an irresistible slice of Reagan-era B-movie fare which features
Cyndi Lauper dance-alongs (these girls just wanna have fun!) as well as some
truly gravity-defying bouffant hairstyles and some superb Zombie make-ups. The
“Zombie-Cop” is an iconic monster from the 80’s, of that there is no doubt. As
always with Arrow, the transfer is top notch, showing off the films amazing
colour pallet and the extras are brilliantly done (such as taking a shot of a
character writing on a note pad and intercutting it with the name of the
documentary, as though the on screen character is actually writing its title on
screen. It’s an indication of the time,
effort and humour that the Arrow team put into their releases.These extra’s include:
·High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and
Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original
film elements by MGM
·Original 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM
on the Blu-ray)
·Optional English subtitles for the
deaf and hard of hearing
·Audio commentary with
writer/director Thom Eberhardt
·Audio commentary with stars Kelli
Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart
·Audio commentary with production designer
·Valley Girls at the End of the World
– Interviews with Kelli Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart
·The Last Man on Earth? – An
interview with actor Robert Beltran
·End of the World Blues – A brand new
interview with Star Mary Woronov
·Curse of the Comet – An Interview
with special make-up effects creator David B. Miller
·Original Theatrical Trailer
·Reversible sleeve featuring original
and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
·Collector’s booklet featuring new
writing on the film by James Oliver illustrated with original archive stills
the film is very much of its time, it is also timeless as all great cult films
should be. The fact that the film constantly refers to and pays homage to other sci-fi classics is
fabulous, but it is the little less- than- obvious touches that will make for
repeated viewings. My favourite:s one of the survivors of the night of the
comet opens a sealed projection room door and the poster taped onto it was the
Gable/Lombard camp classic Red Dust, which is exactly what all those outside
now are. Touches like that are missing from the “Zombie” (i.e. made and watched
by) films of today. So, my advice is to buy this new Arrow release and draw the
blinds and watch the magical colours on screen and for once “Don’t watch The Skies”.
1983, a serial killer claims more than a dozen lives in and around Rome,
apparently targeting his victims at random, and then disappears.The killer leaves his signature in blood at
each crime scene: “Canepazzo,” or “Crazy Dog.”Thirty years later, Marco Costa (Gian Marco Tavani), the son of one of
the victims, interviews Raul Chinna (Marco Bonetti), a retired criminologist.Obsessively pursuing Canepazzo’s decades-cold
trail, Costa hopes that he can unearth clues from Chinna’s old investigative
files.Who was Crazy Dog, why did he
murder Costa’s father, and why did he abruptly end his bloody spree?If he’s still alive, can Marco locate him and
avenge his father’s death? Revealing that the man who knew the most about the
crimes was a young investigative reporter, David Moiraghi(Giuseppe Schisano), Chinna begins to recount
a sequence of events based on Moiraghi’s interrogations of witnesses and
examinations of the murder scenes.
back-of-the-case blurb on the One7Movies 2014 DVD release of “Crazy Dog” likens
David Petrucci’s 2012 movie to the Italian giallo
and polizio thrillers of the Cinema
Retro era.Petrucci underscores the
homage by casting three 1970s Italian genre icons -- Marco Bonetti, Franco
Nero, and Tinto Brass -- in prominent roles.Another influence would seem to be the long-running U.S. TV series “Cold
Case” (2003-2010), in Petrucci’s structure of a present-day investigator
delving into a decades-old mystery, with period-detail flashbacks to the
crime.There’s a trace of Fritz Lang’s
“M” (1931) as well, when a Rome crime boss strongarms his way into Moiraghi’s
investigation for reasons of his own.
Dog” exhibits some of the limitations of a multi-tasking auteur working
independently on a limited budget.(Petrucci produced, edited, and directed from a script by Igor
Maltagliati.)The cast of primary
characters is small, many scenes are driven either by lengthy dialogue or
conversely by dialogue-free montage, and some of the actors are more effective
than others.A scene centering on Nero
as a loquacious, crackpot artist runs on for far too long, but Cinema Retro
fans will feel inclined to forgive Petrucci: if you land Nero for a film, and
you probably can afford only a limited amount of his time, who wouldn’t make
the most of the opportunity?The framing
device of the present-day interview with the retired criminologist seems
confining at first, but as Maltagliati’s story progresses, the reason for
constructing the movie in that way becomes ingeniously clear.
Region 0 DVD is well executed.Colors
are vivid and details are sharp in the movie’s 1.85:1 aspect ratio.The DVD uses the Italian-language print of
the film and provides subtitles in English.The disc includes two extras: the film’s original trailer and a photo
gallery.The One7Movies Region 0 DVD of
“Crazy Dog” can be ordered HERE.
It's become a tradition in the United States that, with the onset of summer, the media goes into overdrive trying to scare the pants off people with hyper-inflated warnings about the "shark menace". Forget the fact that you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being devoured by a Great White shark- all anyone remembers is that trouble maker Steven Spielberg embellishing in our brains the image of Robert Shaw serving as a human smorgasbord for Bruce, the mechanical shark. This year, the "shark menace" was relatively subdued on TV and on-line thanks to any number of genuine crisis ranging from the rise of Isis to President Putin's obsession to ensuring that Eastern Europe returns to the joyful period of Stalinism. Nevertheless, shark mania was never too far below the surface. The Discovery Channel's annual "Shark Week" festival features seven days of 24/7 shows about the planet's least-endearing creatures. Jumping on the bandwagon, the Smithsonian Channel has followed suit with "Shark Collection", a DVD comprising of three diverse documentaries. There isn't a "Sharknado" movie to be found, as these programs examine various aspects of the real life plight of various sharks and how they are faring through conservation efforts in recent years.
The first episode is titled "Shark Girl" and offers a fascinating portrait of a fascinating young woman. Madison Stewart is a 19 year old Australian firebrand who has had an obsession with sharks since childhood. With her parent's support, she left school in order to pursue a lifelong career in shark conservation. The film follows her on exotic diving trips to continue her education about the habits of some of the deadliest species. Stewart is consistently engaging and disarmingly charismatic but she is also unstoppable in her determination to bring about stronger conservation laws around the world. The film follows her land-based political efforts that include lobbying Woolworth's (yes, they're still a big chain in Oz) to stop selling shark meat. When the appeal on an emotional level doesn't work, Stewart secures a report from the an internationally respected laboratory proving that the shark meat the stores are selling contains levels of mercury that are far above the recommended allowance. She starts a media campaign warning that people might be putting their health in jeopardy by indulging in this delicacy. The film shows some stomach-turning of magnificent sharks being slaughtered simply to get their fins, which are considered to be a sexual stimulant in Asia. She travels to Mexico to support the government's bold decision to place an annual moratorium on when sharks can be hunted- a decree that is already baring noticeable results. Stewart acknowledges that sharks can pose a danger, but she seems to be blissfully delusional about how erratic their behavior can be. In a dive with legendary Bahamian shark expert Stuart Cove, she is literally surrounded by deadly sharks as she confidently offers them food. As with all of these nature documentaries, the unsung heroes are the camera people who take the risk of photographing these remarkable scenes, yet never get appropriate credit.
The second episode is titled "Death Beach" and provides the obligatory balance between sympathizing with the plight of sharks and being scared to death of them. It's also the strongest episode on the DVD. The film follows the efforts of scientists to discover why a popular but remote beach in South Africa was the scene of five deadly shark attacks in as many years, with three of them occurring in one summer. There are well-done recreations of the attacks and interviews with witnesses. The scientists are seen attempting to catch and tag sharks in order to study patterns of travel and behavior. The episode is genuinely disturbing and will make you relieved that you survived stepping into your own bathtub.
The final episode is titled "Great White Code Red", which will be of primary interest to people with a scientific approach to the shark phenomenon. The show features shark experts indulging in a grisly autopsy of a Great White in order to further understand the many mysteries about this creature that have continued to elude us. The filmmakers deserved kudos for not pandering to the more shocking aspects of shark behavior, but at the same time, this restraint undoubtedly makes this the least engaging of the three episodes.
"Shark Collection" is a consistently interesting release that fulfills its main mission, which is to inform even while it entertains. Recommended viewing.
Vinegar Syndrome, the DVD label that specializes in rescuing obscure cult movies from oblivion, has released another grindhouse triple feature of 1970s erotica. All three features, contained on two DVDs, are hardcore and all recall period of time when, in order to see such fare, you had to sheepishly pay to enter a porn theater, hoping that anyone of influence in your life who might see you would be sitting in the audience themselves. Watching these oldies but goodies today, one is impressed by the fact that, even within the limited boundaries of the meager production values, some real attempts were made to tell legitimate stories. In that respect, the X rated feature films differed from the "loops", which merely consisted of ten minute reels in which everyone had to get down to business as quickly as possible.
The first film in this triple feature is "Cry for Cindy", which starred Amber Hunt, a pouty, baby-faced beauty who evidently made a bit of a splash when the film was made in 1976 (it begins with a placard thanking Hustler publisher Larry Flint for bringing his top centerfold to the attention of producers.) Hunt plays Cindy, a young woman who is living the high life in L.A. She drives an expensive car, lives in a luxurious apartment and even gets to fly private planes. However, the down side is that all of this is financed by her career as a high end hooker. The film delves into her psychological dilemma: she's addicted to her lifestyle but is increasingly appalled at how she earns it. She is used and abused by a brutal pimp who reminds her that he can toss her out into the street on a whim. Consequently, she becomes his personal sex slave. Her two best friends are more accepting of their fate as hookers. In a flashback sequence, we see how Cindy started as an innocent hair stylist who was helping to finance her boyfriend's way through medical school. Faced with insurmountable debt, she is lured into the life of a hooker without ever divulging this to her lover, who thinks she is suddenly earning big money by modelling. Cindy never warms to going to bed with unattractive men but learns to be the best in her profession, thus making herself a valuable commodity. As the story progresses, however, she becomes more depressed, leading to a rather somber and unexpected development. "Cry for Cindy" is quite ambitious in many respects: it shows a feminine point of view towards sexual exploitation, admittedly even while the actresses are sexually exploiting themselves. The script is literate and interesting and - dare I say it?- the acting is impressive for this genre. The sex scenes leave nothing to the imagination and are erotically filmed and the production values are fairly high, with numerous location sequences and even an original love song written for the opening credits. The film ranks high among the grindhouse sex flicks of the era. (The DVD set also contains a more mainstream, soft-core cut of the film).
"Touch Me" is another attempt to combine a literate script with hardcore sex. Filmed in 1971, the low-budget production is set in an institute where various young people have assembled to discuss and try to resolve their sexual issues. The setting is the private home of the doctor who administers the therapies, which seems to be an opening for low-brow comedy. Yet, the script plays it straight, offering fully developed characterizations and a cast that can actually act (even if the "doctor" is of the rather stiff, pre-"Airplane" Leslie Nielsen method school). The characters span such a spectrum of varying personalities with varying problems that you half expect to see Irwin Allen's name as producer. There's the guy who is insecure about his penis size. There's another guy who harbors rape fantasies. There's a bickering couple and a wife who is rather frigid- and of course, the prerequisite lesbian who feels compelled to get "cured" but ends up adding a few numbers of straight women to her black book. The sex here is more clinical-both cinematically and in a literal sense- as everyone learns to shed their inhibitions and express and enact their wildest fantasies. As with "Cry for Cindy", "Touch Me" is a very obvious attempt to present an erotic film that might be more appealing to female viewers. The dialogue is intelligent and the cast is talented enough to suspect some of them might have found legitimate success in the profession.
Rounding out the triple feature is "Act of Confession", a 1972 film that starts out as ambitiously as the other two entries in the set. The film opens with a rather poignant overview of the miserable conditions most people lived in during the Middle Ages. A narrator points out how particularly rough it was for women, who were mostly consigned to a slave-life existence as the wife of a peasant. Consequently, many young women sought refuge in convents, not particularly because of religious conviction, but simply to escape the drudgery of back-breaking daily life on a farm. The premise is fine and one wishes the producers had stuck with simply providing a documentary about the Middle Ages. However, sex is the name of the game here and we are soon introduced to a young nun who develops some nasty habits in the convent, getting it on with the other sisters as well as the most fortunate priest and altar boy in Europe. In what is undoubtedly the most controversial sequence, she is seduced by Jesus Christ, so if you're still griping about that old Scorsese film, here's a new one you can protest. Unlike the other two films in this set, this entry is about as erotic as a catechism class, with a leading lady so lifeless that the sex scenes border on necrophilia.
Although the films credit aliases for their directors, the DVD sleeve indicates they were actually all helmed by one Anthony Spinelli, who apparently was a legend in the industry back in the day- and improbably, was the brother of noted character actor Jack Weston. Spinelli's work is several notches above the norm for this genre and Vinegar Syndrome presents crisp, clean remastered transfers. Whether these types of films appeal to you or not, they do offer an undeniable cinematic time capsule into an era when the industry was shaking off the constraints of repressive censorship that had dominated popular culture for the entire century. I'd call this an impressive package, but given the subject matter, it would sound too much like a stale joke.
Many books have been written about
Hollywood Westerns. After 45 years, the
late William K. Everson’s “A Pictorial History of the Western Film” (The
Citadel Press, 1969) remains one of the best: a coffee-table book with
substance. Everson appropriately tips
his sombrero to John Ford, John Wayne, Henry Hathaway, and Howard Hawks (with
measured praise for “Red River”), and his comments on films spanning the history of the genre up to the
end of the 1960s, from “The Great Train Robbery” (1903) to “The Wild Bunch”
(1969), are incisive and thought-provoking. As a film scholar and preservationist, Everson was particularly
knowledgeable about older and often obscure movies from the silent and early
sound eras. Three of the classic titles
he highlights are worthy of his approval and deserve to be better known than
King Vidor’s “Billy the Kid” (1930) is slow
going at times, particularly if you’re accustomed to the frantic pace of modern
action movies. Nevertheless, as the
first major Hollywood dramatization of the Billy the Kid story, adapted from
Walter Noble Burns’ 1925 book, it’s certainly worth seeing. Everson praises the spare quality of the
deliberately tried to avoid the traditional MGM gloss; the photography is good,
but always naturalistic, the characters drab in their dress, the buildings
ramshackle, the streets dusty. It is a
long film and a slow one, with its main action sequence placed in the middle of
the film, so that it doesn’t even build to a climax as most Westerns do. Its script is frankly untidy, yet the film is
quite certainly the best and most convincing of all the Billy the Kid sagas.
is right about Vidor’s strikingly stark style, including Vidor’s use of rugged
outdoor scenes in which massive buttes and caves dwarf the actors, but he’s
wrong about the movie not building to a climax. Actually it does, although the dramatic climax isn’t the final
confrontation between Billy (Johnny Mack Brown) and Pat Garrett (Wallace
Beery!), that you might expect from 80 years of Billy the Kid cinema, and maybe
as Everson expected. It’s an emotional
climax instead of a violent climax: the next-to-last scene in the movie, in
which Billy, on the run, tries to keep his sweetheart Claire (Kay Johnson) from
sticking with him by telling her that he doesn’t love her, although it’s
poignantly clear to the viewer that he does. Vidor, Brown, and Johnson stage the scene with great tenderness.
Spoiler alert: there isn’t much of a
resolution between Billy and Garrett. The two never really face off, as you’d expect from other movies like
“The Left-Handed Gun” (1958) and “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” (1973), which
remain marginally truer to historical fact. Just after the Kid returns to the heartbroken Claire and confesses that he really does
care, Garrett lets the outlaw ride away with her to freedom and a happy
future. Beery may seem an unlikely
choice to play Pat Garrett (although not the oddest: that would be Thomas
Mitchell in “The Outlaw” from 1946) , but the role is crafted to the actor’s
usual image as a soft-hearted roughneck, so it isn’t as clumsy a fit as you
From Billy the Kid to the O.K. Corral:
Everson called Edward L. Cahn’s “Law and Order” (1932) “[one] of the sound era’s most overlooked Westerns (and
one of its finest).” Walter Huston and
Harry Carey Sr. are terrific as Frame Johnson -- “the killin’est marshal in the West” -- and shotgun-toting gambler Ed
Brandt in this lean, black-and-white movie based on W.R. Burnett’s novel “Saint
Johnson,” with John Huston credited for “adaptation and dialogue.” Johnson (a thinly disguised Wyatt Earp), his
brother Lute, Brandt (the Doc Holliday of the story), and their pard Deadwood
drift into lawless Tombstone, where the rustling Northrup brothers ride
roughshod. The town fathers offer
Johnson the job of peace officer.
“Nope, I’m done with that,” the flinty Johnson says at
first. “All it’s gotten me is a trail of
dead men and a heap of enemies.” The
locals cagily change his mind by playing on his pride: “Pin Northrup’s bet a
thousand dollars that you won’t go up agin’ em.”
The dialogue is hardboiled, almost the only women-folk
in sight are the saloon floozies, and the script establishes a bleak,
fatalistic tone early on. Drifting,
Johnson and his companions match cards on the trail to determine whether to go
to Alkali or Tombstone; Brandt offhandedly votes for Tombstone and draws the
winning hand -- aces over eights, the cards that Wild Bill Hickok held when he
was murdered by Jack McCall. The
real-life events of the feud between the Earps and the Ike Clanton gang are
rearranged here so that the shootings and shotgun ambushes lead up to rather
than follow the showdown inside the “O.K. Barn,” staged by Cahn as a brutal,
running gunbattle around hay bales and horse stalls. A gangster movie from the same year, “The
Beast of the City,” co-scripted by W.R. Burnett and starring Walter Huston, ended
with the same sort of last-ditch, straight-up shootout between cops led by
Huston and mobsters led by Jean Hersholt as a gang lord modeled on Al Capone.
Zane Grey’s “Riders of the Purple Sage” (1912) has
been filmed at least five times. Everson
singled out the 1941 version, directed by James Tinling and starring George
Montgomery, as “that rare animal, a remake superior to at least some of its
predecessors. In less than an hour, it
packed in all of Grey’s complicated plot, managed to prevent the unusually
large number of characters from getting in each other’s way, offered plenty of
action and good locations and photography.” Montgomery as vengeance-driven gunman Jim Lassiter makes an impressive
entrance. Dressed all in black, he
prevents a gang of crooked vigilantes from whipping an innocent man by shooting
the whip in two. “You’re interferin’
with justice, stranger,” the ringleader snarls. “Takin’ a whip to a man ain’t justice,” Lassiter snaps back.
Grey’s novel villainized Mormons, led by the corrupt
Bishop Dyer, but the movie sidesteps religious controversy: in this version,
Dyer is a greedy judge (Robert Barrat) who attemps to intimidate Jane (Mary
Howard), a young ranch owner, into signing her property over to him. The judge’s main henchman is his son Adam,
played by Kane Richmond, whom pulp movie fans may remember better as the Spy
Smasher and the Shadow. Montgomery
anchors the film with conviction and charisma, and as Everson noted, William
Bruckner’s and Robert F. Metzler’s script keeps the gunfights, fistfights, and
chases coming at a rapid clip. This is a
movie that combines the simplicity and verve of the B-Western with the
accomplished acting and outdoor production values of an A-production.
“Law and Order” and “Riders of the Purple Sage” are
available in DVD-R editions on the collector’s market, and “Billy the Kid” has
been released on DVD-R by the Warner Archive Collection. For their quality and historical value, I
think all three films deserve proper restoration on Blu-ray and DVD, and I
suspect that William K. Everson would have agreed.
(the following review is of
the UK release of the film, on Region 2 format)
Behind the Lace Curtain: Soviet Spies in
Robert Tronson’s ‘Ring of Spies’
(aka ‘Ring of Treason’) is the 1964 film version of the true-life Portland Spy
Ring case. From the late 1950s until 1961 the five-strong ring passed secrets
to the Soviets from the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland
in Dorset, ‘the most hush-hush joint in the country’. Bernard Lee – who is best
known for his role as James Bond’s M, played Harry Houghton, an ex-naval
officer who is shipped back from his post in Warsaw following a drunken
incident at an embassy party. Houghton is posted as a clerk at the secret naval
base at Portland and is approached by an agent from ‘the other side’ who
convinces him to commit treason and steal them ‘a few titbits’. Houghton befriends
his co-worker, Elizabeth Gee (played by Margaret Tyzack), whom Harry calls
‘Bunty’. In reality spinster Gee’s first name was Ethel. Pleased with
Houghton’s attention and fuss, the two begin courting and Houghton convinces
her to take ‘Top Secret’ documents from the safe. Gee thinks she’s helping US
intelligence to keep tabs on the Royal Navy, but their contact in London,
Gordon Lonsdale, is actually a Soviet agent.
Lonsdale (played by William
Sylvester, later of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’), masquerades as a jukebox dealer
in London, but in reality he takes the ‘borrowed’ documentation to antiquarian
bookseller Peter Kroger (David Kossoff) and his wife Helen. There, behind the
lace curtains at their bungalow at 45 Cranley Drive, Ruislip, Middlesex – inconspicuously
nestled in suburbia – the pilfered secrets are photographed, documented, then
sent behind the Iron Curtain, reduced to diminutive microdots which are hidden
as full stops in such collectable books as ‘Songs of Innocence’ by William
Blake. Houghton and Gee become wealthy for their sins, buying a bungalow and a
new Zodiac car. But their boozing and conspicuous generosity in local pubs
attracts attention. The police and secret service calculate that their joint
£30-a-week incomes don’t match their extravagant lifestyle. Their home is
bugged by an agent posing as a gasman and the spy ring’s full extent begins to
Anyone interested in rare
1960s British cinema and low-fi monochrome espionage is in for a treat with
this engrossing rendition of a fascinating true story. Told with the minimum of
flash and no distracting score (the only music is from record players, or odd
atonal data electronica) ‘Ring of Spies’ deserves to be better known. Bernard
Lee is well cast as the hard-drinking Houghton, who feels the world owes him
something and has no loyalty to ‘Queen and Country’, in sharp contrast to his M
character in the 007 films. Tyzack and Sylvester are also ideal for the roles
of timid spinster and ice-cold spymaster. The supporting cast is good, with Thorley
Walters as Houghton’s cheery commander, Winters, and familiar faces such as
Paul Eddington and Geoffrey Palmer present in the background. Edwin Apps plays
Blake, ‘a minor cog in the Middle East department’. One of my favourite 1960s
actresses, Justine Lord (Sonia in ‘The Girl Who Was Death’ spy spoof episode of
‘The Prisoner’) appears early in the film, as Christina, Harry’s lover in
Warsaw. Gillian Lewis played Harry and Bunty’s co-worker Marjorie Shaw, whose
beauty has earned her ‘Runner up, Miss Lyme Regis’. The realistic settings and
authentic filming locations – Chesil Beach, various London tube stations, the
Round Pond in Kensington Palace Gardens, the magnificent roof garden at the top
of Derry and Toms department store on Kensington High Street – ensure the story
is always interesting and the monochrome cinematography adds docu-realism to
the action. Interiors were shot on sets at Shepperton Studios.
Don’t expect 007, nor even
Harry Palmer, but the film’s depiction of low-key, cloak and dagger espionage
is edgily exciting, as the spies are tailed on English country roads and
suburbia by British agents disguised as builders, ‘News of the World’ newspaper
van drivers and nuns. This is a must for fans of 1960s Cold War spy cinema. The
story proves that fact is often much stranger than fiction. In reality, after
being sentenced to 15 years in prison each, Houghton and Gee were released in
1970 and married the following year.
This DVD release is part of
Network’s ‘The British Film’ collection, a five-year project to release over
450 British films via a deal with Studiocanal. The project commenced in April
2013. ‘Ring of Spies’ is from British Lion and includes the original trailer (a
‘U’ rated trailer advertising an ‘A’ certificate film) and a gallery of publicity
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON UK AND TO VIEW ORIGINAL TRAILER